Skeptic News: I wish Remote Rife Therapy really did work


96

Skeptic News: I wish Remote Rife Therapy really did work

NZ Skeptics Newsletter
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I wish Remote Rife Therapy really did work

For those of you who listen to our fortnightly NZ Skeptics podcast, Yeah… Nah! (which is based on this newsletter), you’ll be aware that I tested positive for COVID recently. It’s been a week now since my first day of symptoms, and I’m feeling a lot better than I did a week ago. Craig was kind enough to cover for me on the radio talking with Graeme Hill last week, but thankfully I was feeling good enough to get back in the saddle yesterday afternoon. For those of you who listen to the radio, I highly recommend listening to Graeme’s “Hill’s Weekend” show on Sunday afternoons – Graeme always manages to line up a set of fascinating people to talk to, and I’m always grateful to be able to talk with him about skepticism and some of the nonsense we find out there in the world.

On Wednesday I received an interesting email trying to sell me on the idea of remote healing using Rife Therapy – maybe I should have given it a go, to see if they could treat my COVID. I’ve dissected the email’s claims below.

I also noticed a link in our Facebook group to a new post from Ken Ring, which turned out to be seven shades of weird. As well as having been sucked in by a host of daft conspiracy theories, Ring is also promoting some racist nonsense about Egyptians being in New Zealand before Māori were.

Finally Bronwyn jumps into Amway, which she describes as an O.G. M.L.M. (for those of you who don’t keep up with slang terms, O.G. stands for Original Gangster, meaning it’s old and well-established). I really enjoyed reading this, given Amway’s long history.

I wonder if we can convince Bronwyn to reach out to one of these MLM’s one day, and pretend like she’s an interested potential member. I’ve done this before, and found the entire thing to be fascinating. A lot of the unfounded claims that are made by members of these MLMs are only ever passed on verbally, and never written down (for obvious reasons) – so actually sitting down and chatting with someone who wants to recruit you into their “downline” can be an eye opening experience. I’ve not only been told about medical nonsense by MLM recruiters, but also a whole lot of conspiracy theories as well.

Mark Honeychurch




In this week’s newsletter

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Royal Raymond Rife Remotely

I received an email the other day from Joanne O’Brien, who according to her website is a Professional Organiser, Image Consultant and Health Coach. Now, I’m not going to deny that I am probably in need of all three of these services, but despite that I have no idea why I received this email from her (although I accept that I may well have signed up for a newsletter at some point). The email was advertising the health aspect of Joanne’s repertoire, promoting an “amazing treatment” called Rife Therapy. It said:

Rife Therapy came about through Royal Raymond Rife who developed the frequencies through his generators that he developed in the 1930’s. He began treating people and those he treated had their bodies balanced in a way that enabled them to heal themselves.

This claim is the first of several red flags in the email, mentioning “frequencies” (a favourite science buzzword for cranks) and enabling the body to heal itself (another frequently used claim).

Next we have two quotes from famous people – Tesla and Einstein:

Firstly, from Tesla, “If you wish to understand the universe, then think of Energy, Frequency and Vibration”. The only places online I can find this quote are places like new age spiritual websites and people’s LinkedIn business profiles – however hard I search I can’t find anywhere that authenticates this as being from Nikola Tesla.

The same can be said for the second quote “Future Medicine will be the Medicine of Frequencies”, supposedly from Einstein. Again there’s nothing online showing he ever said this.

Whenever I see quotes being used like this, I immediately become skeptical. I’ve seen misquotes used by many cranks, like David Icke. And it turns out in this case the quotes are being used in the email to try to justify Rife’s ideas. The email says:

“These guys were ahead of their time just as Royal Raymond Rife was ahead of his time.”

However Rife wasn’t ahead of his time – his ideas were pure pseudoscience, and these modern day Rife machines are useless. Their operators say they work using a kind of bioresonance – the idea that diseases have a frequency, and that the correct frequency transmitted to someone with a disease can kill that disease – up to and including cancer and HIV. In practice, not only have these machines never been shown to work, but dissected machines have been shown to consist of just a battery and a couple of components designed to give the patient a mild shock. According to Wikipedia, several people with advanced disease who have refused proper medical treatment and chosen Rife Therapy instead have died.

What’s worse with the email I received is that Joanne is offering remote Rife Therapy – another level of nonsense. The email says that this is done through quantum entanglement (another dodgy buzzword), and that all you need to do is send her a sample of your DNA – like a fingernail. This new idea doesn’t even fit with Raymond Rife’s own theories, so it appears Joanne has somehow figured out something Rife wasn’t able to.

She goes on to say that:

“I have been treating clients for 20 years and even the biggest skeptics or non-believers have been converted by results within their body after having Rife Frequency Therapy”

As a skeptic I’m having a hard time believing her, but I don’t want to have to pay her money to prove her wrong. And sadly this is just one of several useless therapies she offers on her website – she also sells Colloidal Silver, Oxygen Therapy, a Vitamin Scan, Bach Flower remedies and something called Stem Cell Nutrition. Some of that is so weird I’ve never heard of it before, so I’m going to have to do some reading.

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Ken Ring is getting worse

Most of us will know Ken Ring both for his claim that he can predict the weather by looking at the moon, and his supposed ability to predict earthquakes. Here’s Ken talking about how you can supposedly also use rainbows to predict the weather:



In recent years Ken’s been slowly falling down the rabbit hole of misinformation, and a post on Facebook from the other day shows just how bad it’s gotten…

He starts with a warning: “do not read this if you are not openminded”. By this I think he means that he doesn’t want people to disagree with him, so he’s looking for people who will accept what he says without questioning it to read his post.

He then goes on to lay out his thoughts:

  • The bible is missing 100 books that were taken out for nefarious reasons.
  • There are lost lands of Atlantis, Lemuria, and Rama.
  • 18 foot tall people used to roam the world, as depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics. They may also have been aliens.
  • There are giant underground labyrinths in both the Arctic and Antarctic, which rich people use to imprison child slaves. These may be where the aliens used to live.
  • Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landings.
  • Michelle Obama used to be a man.
  • There are buildings on the moon, Mars and Uranus.

There’s even some local nonsense in there. Apparently the New Zealand election was rigged by voting machine companies, the government is bankrupting New Zealand so that our country can be sold to China, and Egyptians used to live here thousands of years ago.

In one way it’s nice to have local conspiracies mixed in with Ken’s other nonsense, but that last one just feels like a version of the usual racist garbage we often hear over here, arguing that Māori weren’t here first.

Ken ends by saying:

“one thing’s for sure. At one time there lived a race who were far more technologically advanced than we are… These people had electricity, nuclear capability, building techniques that were unsurpassed… they lived in huge societies in many different places.”

Having kept an eye on Ken for many years now, there’s an arrogance to a lot of what he says. He’s convinced that he knows better than the world’s experts, in many, many scientific fields. But he’s getting silly now – he appears to have fallen for some of the daftest ideas on the internet. From what I can tell he’s getting a lot of his ideas from people on YouTube such as Robert Deutsch and Ben Pellom – people with outlandish worldviews whose videos get very few views. It’s hard to believe, with all of these bad ideas being shared by Ken Ring, that some farmers still trust and buy his made-up weather almanac.

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Amway

(or Scamway, if you are so inclined)

Bronwyn Rideout

 

Official Site | Wikipedia | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

 

Country of Origin: Michigan, United States

Year Founded: November 9, 1959

Founded by: Richard DeVos and Jay Van Andel

Year MLM established in New Zealand: December 21, 1971

Generally sells: Initially started with food supplements, and has since expanded to sell 450 products across health, beauty and homecare.

“Cult” products: Best known for LOC, a multipurpose cleaner, SA8 Laundry detergent, and a dishwashing liquid. Nutrilite, the health supplement product line, is its best seller.

Is there a buy-in?: 99 AUD/119 NZD minimum build-your-own registration pack, where you have to purchase a minimum of $119 NZD of Amway’s Top Products.

Name for workforce: Independent Business Owners (IBOs)

Compensation Plan?: Amway’s compensation plan is not clearly outlined or available for non IBOs to access directly from their website. However, here are a couple of YouTube videos, from both an Amway supporter and a detractor, that illuminate the mathematics a bit:

Elise Hewlett

Zachary Spear

I’ll go into this more when I talk about the mathematics behind the products but, as with all MLMs, the retail value of the product is NOT what is not relevant to the compensation scale, the PV and BV (see below) are. This is something that is not clear in the videos above; so when Hewlett talks about an $800 spend, what they mean is an $800 BV, whereas the actual amount paid to Amway is much more.

As with other MLMs, the compensation structure is not a strict commission-based model where one gets a set percentage of each sale made. Instead, it is a convoluted model whereby each product has a personal volume (PV) to it which is at a lower value than the product being sold, with a secondary business volume (BV) which is used to calculate the percentage of bonus one will receive on the total PV of the IBO and their downline. The PV to BV ratio is currently 1 PV : 3.97 BV, which seems generous, but when you get the calculator out, it turns out it isn’t all that great. As Hewlett demonstrates, an $800 gross monthly spend will only get you $72 commission, while a downline of 4 other IBOs also dropping $800 per month can earn you nearly 3 times that amount, $192, for a total of $264/month. 

You can play with this Amway calculator to see how much you’d have to sell, or how many people you would need to recruit, in order to match your current annual salary. It also includes the differential calculation that determines how much of a bonus the upline can earn from the downline.

While you are not required to purchase products for yourself, it does help with bolstering your PV and BV, which in turn helps you to climb the reward ranks listed here. Similar to other MLMs, once your downline starts to out-earn you, they can breakaway from being your downline and you cannot earn BV based on them and their downline, so it is beneficial to constantly recruit mid-level achievers who will bring in sales, but not too many sales.

Complicating the PV/BV divide are the partnerships Amway has with companies like Tower Insurance, Spark, and Hertz, which allow distributors to earn PV and BV on insurance policies and car rentals, while Spark offers device subsidies and account credits on 24 month plans.

Income Disclosure Statement?: There is one for the United States, but not for Australia or New Zealand. As usual, there is no disclosure on the number of distributors in Amway. In 2021, it appears that 33% of IBOs had no sales, earned any compensation, or did any recruiting. Of the IBOs that did receive payment, the top 1% earned $87,901 USD per annum average, while the top 10% earned $14,537 average and the top 50% earned an average of $3,414. This is income calculated on sale, and does not include any voluntary or mandatory business expenses incurred during the running of an Amway business. The average income over all IBOs at the rank of Founders Platinum and below were $766 USD. In 2016, this was as low as $206 USD.

Has a reputation for:  Being one of the O.G. MLMs, that through good luck and success in the courts paved the way for other MLMs to thrive. Their products are acknowledged as being of good to excellent quality but even then, the prices are excessively inflated. Long seen by detractors and ex-distributors as cult-like in its operations.

Should you be worried?: A common recruitment tactic is for a couple involved in Amway to invite another couple for dinner, drinks etc. What seems like a fun night out becomes a long recruitment pitch, which sadly works more often than it should; many a swinger has been disappointed, but jokes aside this is a predatory tactic that takes advantage of the eagerness of many couples to make new connections.
 

The Amway Primer

Amway (American Way) was founded by long-time friends Jay Van Andel and Richard DeVos in 1959. Prior to that, both had been business partners in a series of ventures including being distributors for another MLM, Nutrilite Products, which Amway eventually bought out fully in 1992.

As one of the big name MLMs to have survived into the 21st century, Amway has been a pioneer on the legal scene in the US, Canada, and China. In a 1979 ruling, the US Federal Trade Commission ruled that Amway was not a pyramid scheme, but was still guilty of false income claims and price fixing. In 1982, DeVos, Andel, and executive vice president William Discher were indicted on several charges, such as the underreporting of imports and defrauding the Canadian government of $28 million between 1965 and 1980.

Amway launched in China in 1995, but in 1998 it was faced with a crisis there when the Chinese government banned all forms of direct marketing (on April 21st, 1998). U.S. trade officials tried to claim that the business of Amway, Avon, and Mary Kay was legitimate, whereas the Chinese government claimed that the ban was really targeted at Chinese and Taiwanese firms. At the time, Amway had invested $100 million with 80,000 active distributors. If you have read the Mary Kay instalment of this series, then you might recall what a growth market China is for the booming middle-class in the areas of the Health and Beauty sectors. Amway appears to have weathered this storm, with the Asia market keeping it afloat in leaner times, and direct selling being legal since 2005 – though with serious restrictions on recruiting.

Here are some great videos and resources on Amway from the usual suspects
 

 

Product Math

MLM product maths is always a challenge, but at the back of the April 2022 Amway catalogue there is a helpful guide.

Here, we’ll look at whitening toothpaste (all skeptics can breathe a little easier, since Amway is not advertising a fluoride-free formulation). For a standard sized tube, the consumer will pay $11.20. The PV will be 2.23, and your BV is 8.85. Without a downline, an IBO would need to purchase/sell 45 tubes ($504) of toothpaste to get onto the first level of the commission scale discussed in Hewlett’s and Spears’ videos. Your BV from the toothpaste alone is $398.25, but since you are only at the bottom rung, your payout is only going to be about $12. To move to the next tier in the compensation scale, an IBO would need a downline of at least 3 people selling $100 PV. The commission from this downline would be $35, meaning the IBO would make a total amount of $60, which wouldn’t quite cover the cost of the annual renewal fee of $69 AUD.

With distributors encouraged to purchase Amway products for their own use, plus other business expenses, $12 to $60 is a pretty paltry rebate on a $504 spend. Obviously, a distributor will not spend/sell $504 on toothpaste alone; if they purchase for themselves or a VIP customer is buying, then they pay the wholesale price of $10.18.

Or, you could go to Countdown and just buy a tube of Colgate for $8.49:
 

Amway has incentive trips and awards programmes to bolster sales for certain product lines. It is within the qualifying criteria for these trips that one can see that achievement is not just based on pure sales numbers, but also on increasing targeted sales of certain products, as well as attendance in specific training courses. For example, in this current programme that is boosting sales in the health and beauty lines, it is not just MORE sales, it is an exponential increase in sales with attendance in at least 2 training programmes. Programmes like this cast some suspicion over claims made by Amway distributors regarding these products; are they best-selling because they are good, or because they were just the easiest products for distributors to move in order to qualify.
 

Is it a cult?

Amway is not only about selling overpriced homewares and recruiting. Amway is invested in the ongoing “improvement” of its distributors, and offers free training and seminars. Amway currently claims that the most anyone will have to pay for an online seminar is $10, however third-parties may charge a “fee”. In the days before the internet, of course, Amway had a reputation for pushing motivational books, tapes, CDs and videos which would cost $$ to purchase, not including the costs incurred with travel, accommodation, and food/drink required to host your own recruitment or teaching session.

The accusation that Amway is a cult has been attached to it for almost as long as it has been in operation. Stephen Butterfield, author of Amway: The Cult of Free Enterprise, and other commentators agree with this assessment; not so much in the religious sense, but in their shared tactics. A Huffpost article from 2019 explores how MLMs like Amway employ cult-like tactics to isolate their distributors and increase their reliance on the MLM.

The Skeptic’s Dictionary briefly explores why Amway may be seen as a cult, particularly when it leans into toxic positivity, but prefers to see it more as a shell game where victims are distracted from the truth that the real earnings are from recruitment.
 

The DeVos connection to the religious/conservative right

This isn’t to say that there is no connection to religion in Amway. Again, similar to other MLMs, Amway is associated with religion – although rather than having roots in Utah and Mormonism, Amway is very embedded in both conservative Christianity and the Republican Party. Amway was a major contributor to the GOP throughout the 90s, and even used its voice-mail system to rally voters for some campaigns. A private foundation of president Doug DeVos donated money to an anti-gay marriage organisation in 2012. Unlike, say, Young Living, the religious leanings of Amway’s leaders is not embedded in its advertising or products.

If the DeVos name sounds familiar, well, Richard DeVos is the late father-in-law of Betsy DeVos, whose term as the Secretary of Education under the Trump administration was drenched in controversy from the moment the announcement was made.
 

THAT Queenstown incentive trip, and the implications for government stance on MLMs

From a Western/New Zealand perspective, I always see incentive trips being to other places. As in, the American MLMs love going to Las Vegas or the Caribbean, while in Australasia, Australia is a popular destination.

In 2016, John Key announced that Destination Queenstown and Tourism New Zealand were successful in their bid to bring nearly 10,000 Amway distributors from China to Queenstown for their incentive trip. It was seen to be a potential economic boon to the region, with an estimated $50 million to be earned. It was also presented as a reason to push for a full convention centre as, at the time, there were no facilities with a capacity beyond 500 people. From April 2nd to May 16th, 2018, over 6000 Amway distributors from China travelled to Queenstown in groups of 600 to cruise the Milford Sound, Bungy Jump, see some sheep shearing, and have a Gala dinner. It was expected that nearly 10,000 visitors would visit over several years, bringing $50 million to the local economy. 

Tourism New Zealand is the organisation responsible for marketing New Zealand as a tourist destination, but also has government ministers sitting on its board. During the initial announcement John Key was quoted as saying: “This is by far the biggest incentive business New Zealand has ever won, and it sends a strong message that New Zealand is a serious contender in the global incentive market. China is now our second largest and fastest growing tourism market, contributing nearly NZ$1.7 billion (£800m) to the economy in 2015. And Chinese tourists have the highest daily spend of any of our visitors.

In response to a OIA request made in May 2021, Tourism New Zealand still saw a future for further collaborations with Amway China, while a Commerce Commission response to a 2019 OIA request about Amway in general states that it has not investigated Amway as a pyramid-scheme.

The message is clear, at least for Amway, that the New Zealand government is A-Okay with MLM operations in this country.
 

What’s a skeptic to do?

The one thing that is missing for New Zealand consumers when it comes to most MLMs is a proper Income Disclosure statement. These are not required here or in the States. However, most MLMs provide an income disclosure statement for the US market, likely as a precautionary measure in the event of a lawsuit or anti-MLM media blitz; in fact the US Federal Trade Commission actually exempts MLMs from this requirement. While it is nice when an MLM does provide one for New Zealand, as per the above nasdaq article, MLMs take advantage of the exemption to construct the disclosure to their advantage. The absence of certain facts and figures, i.e. the number of distributors actually working for the organisation, is glaringly obvious but has stood up to legal scrutiny thus far.

If the New Zealand Government continues to take a permissive stance on MLM operations, then as a community we should be pushing back on them to ensure that New Zealand consumers have appropriate information about actual income projections.


If you have any news or thoughts you would like to see published in this newsletter, we would love to hear from you at:
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Skeptic News: BSA decision, Sovereign Citizen Sheriffs, and Arbonne MLM


96

Skeptic News: BSA decision, Sovereign Citizen Sheriffs, and Arbonne MLM

NZ Skeptics Newsletter
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This week we take a look at the Broadcasting Standards Authority decision about a complaint from NZDSOS against Seven Sharp. We look at the Sovereign Citizen “Sheriffs” disruption of an ANZAC service, and Bronwyn continues her series delving into MLMs – this week looking at Arbonne.

Craig Shearer


In this week’s newsletter

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The Pfizer COVID vaccine is safe for almost everyone

Late last year Dr Nikki Turner appeared on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp current affairs program to talk about the number of people who would be expected to have medical problems from being given the Pfizer COVID vaccine. 


She did a great job of describing the vaccine’s ingredients simply, and was even able to estimate the number of kiwis who would be unable to be vaccinated – because of a severe allergic reaction – at around 100. She makes some really good points about just how safe the vaccine is for almost everyone. 

There’s a group of doctors we’ve talked about numerous times, (mostly now ex-doctors), who call themselves NZDSOS – New Zealand Doctors Speaking out with Science. They believe the vaccine is either ineffective, dangerous or a government conspiracy to inject everyone with a microchip to control them. It’s mind-boggling that there are well-educated and highly trained doctors in New Zealand who have such a misunderstanding of science, and distrust of the government, that they think this last one is happening. And they’re deadly serious about that last point. There’s an article on their site claiming they’ve found what they think are self-assembling electronic components in the vaccine.

When we last checked the list of 71 named NZDSOS doctors a couple of months ago, fewer than half of them were actually practising doctors, registered with the Medical Council – although at the beginning of April 2022 several of these doctors won an appeal that saw them reinstated. Either way, they are dwarfed by the nearly 7,000 doctors in NZ who are supportive of the COVID vaccine.

This small group of anti-vaccine doctors took exception to what Dr Turner said on Seven Sharp and, as is their right, they complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority about the segment. They argued that Dr Turner:

  • failed to state the key components in the vaccine

  • made misleading claims that the vaccine is safe for almost everybody

  • incorrectly stated that the vaccine was completely safe for pregnant people

  • completely misleads the audience with her simplistic comments

  • took the position that the risks associated with infection with COVID outweigh the risks associated with vaccination

They also argued that expert opinion like that from Dr Turner is the “lowest tier of evidence”, and is not as reliable as RCTs (Randomised Controlled Trials) and meta-analyses (studies that combine the results of multiple studies statistically).

The BSA appears to have given the NZDSOS doctors a fair hearing, and seriously considered all of their points. However, they found that none of the anti-vaccine doctors’ arguments were persuasive. They said that:

  • Dr Turner is a credible expert so there was no reason for Seven Sharp to doubt the accuracy of her statements

  • Dr Turner did not claim that the vaccine does not cause side effects

  • The safety and efficacy of the vaccine has been well established

  • Dr Turner summarised the ingredients of the vaccine in simplified terms for viewers without specialist expertise

There are a lot of serious sounding articles on the NZDSOS website warning of the dangers of modern medicine, and promoting unproven alternatives – but a lot of what is written on their website is simple scaremongering, and people shouldn’t pay attention to it. 

To me, it seems that NZDSOS are pretending to use science when they are simply pushing an agenda which is ideologically opposed to vaccines and the pharmaceutical companies that supply them. 

When it comes to vaccination, we should trust the experts and not the outliers who are telling you there’s a grand conspiracy. It was good to see the ruling from the BSA support this position.




Sheriffs Invade ANZAC Service

Recently there’s been a flurry of activity from a group in New Zealand who believe that they are Sovereign Citizens – that they have disconnected themselves legally from the laws of our country. Sovereign Citizens believe that the government is an illegitimate corporation with which they have no contract – that they can therefore exempt themselves from our country’s laws, and pick and choose which laws they want to obey, which they describe as common law.

And to an extent, we all live under a social contract – of living in a society – and having to live by the laws that the government sets. Laws need to be just, and there are processes for changing those laws, but you can’t just declare yourself as exempt from them. If you commit a serious crime, the police are going to show up and arrest you – claiming to be a sovereign citizen isn’t going to help you out.

We saw some of this playing out at the occupation at parliament earlier this year. These people believed that by saying some special phrases such as “I do not consent”, when arrested, that police had to let them go, because they’d not entered into a contract with the government “corporation”.

The most recent nonsense from this movement is that they have been making themselves “sheriffs”. It started just over a month ago when, from what I can tell from the news, a couple of sovereign citizens conned or even coerced Justices of the Peace to sign an official-looking document declaring them head New Zealand sheriffs. 


The purpose of these “sheriffs”, it seems, is to be able to arrest individuals who they think have breached “common law” and should be arrested and punished. 

Now that these people consider themselves to be in power, they think that they have the ability to deputise other sheriffs. There’s a short clip of somebody being deputised here.

I can’t help but giggle at the mispronunciation of some of the words in that reading, and it boggles my mind (again!) that people think they can become an official with legal powers just by reading a declaration. 

Last Monday, several Sheriffs turned up at an ANZAC service in Kapiti, near Wellington. They asked if they could speak during the event, along with the others who were speaking. The organisers decided that there would be less disruption if they were allowed a few minutes at the podium. Unsurprisingly, their talk rapidly descended into conspiracy nonsense and they were asked to stop – which thankfully they did.

If you have the misfortune to find yourself entangled with one of these “sheriffs”, it’s important to realise that they have no actual power. However, I would consider them potentially dangerous – these people seem to have some serious delusions – and would back away from any altercation if you can. And if they’re causing a scene, phone the police – I’m sure the police would be happy to come and let these sheriffs know that they’re not welcome, and have no jurisdiction.

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MLM Series: Arbonne

Bronwyn Rideout


Wikipedia Site | NZ website | Australia & NZ Facebook

Country of Origin: Orem, Utah, United States

Year Founded: 1980

Founded by: Petter Mørck

Year MLM established in New Zealand: June 7, 2016

Generally sells: Skincare, cosmetics, and nutrition

“Cult” products: Fizz sticks, 30 days to Healthy Living supplement programme

Is there a buy-in?: $75 NZD Welcome Kit with an annual renewal fee of $45 NZD

Name for workforce:  No silly rank names here, you are an Independent Consultant. Then it’s District Manager, Area Manager, Regional Vice President, and National Vice President

Compensation Plan?: Here. Commission is earned from your personal sales, “overrides” or commission from product sales by your team, and additional awards based on team performance. 

Client commissions are 35% of the recommended retail price and commission from sales to preferred clients is 15%; the consultant earns no commission from products that they purchase for themselves or that other consultants may purchase from them. Preferred clients are customers who pay an annual fee of $29 to get discounted prices on products, flat-rate or free shipping, and the occasional gift. 

Each product has a QV or qualifying volume attached to it and consultants get the full QV volume attached to the product. However, the QV tends to be about 60% – 70% of the recommended retail price and despite New Zealand prices being higher, the QV points are the same as Australian consultants.

Each level has a personal qualifying volume (PQV) to be achieved in order to maintain that rank, earn rewards, or be promoted. Not all products are eligible to be counted towards a consultant’s qualifying volumes; welcome packs and sample packs are such ineligible products while also being the ones that consultants are likely to sell the most of. Renewal fees also are not counted towards PQV. There is some indication on external sites that the consultants’ purchases for themselves also count towards PQV, but this isn’t entirely clear. However, this does indicate that while consultants can’t earn commission from one another, they can help each other maintain or buy ranks.

You can start building a downline as soon as you sign-up but you need to accumulate 500 PQV each month in order to earn the 6% of the Override Volume (OV, which is 65% of the retail volume) from your downline. On top of that, you can only claim Override volume/commission form the consultants you directly recruit (aka the 1st generation); you cannot earn commission on anyone your recruits recruit for themselves.

For example, say you sold only Ginseng Fizz sticks to your clients. They are $93 NZD per box with a QV of 65 and a consultant would need to sell 8 boxes $744 to get the 500PQV needed to earn commission.

A consultant can also earn a $145 consultant achiever award if they personally register at least 2 new consultants or preferred clients who accumulate at least 150 PQV WHILE the consultant themselves also accumulates 150 PQV and a little something extra called 2,500 SuccessLine Qualifying Volume (SLQV). SLQV is the total amount of your QV and the total QV of your downline.

Using the fizz sticks again, your new recruits can each buy 3 boxes to surpass the 150PQV minimum (195QV or $279 spend), then you do the same (195 PQV/$279). Presuming that the recruits PQV and your PQV needed to be eligible are also included in the 2,500 SLQV, an additional 2,110 PQV or 33 boxes of Fizz sticks or $3,019 worth of fizz sticks have to be bought in order to earn a reward of $145.

Calculating a potential commission for an entry level independent consultant. My presumptions are there are no preferred clients dragging down your profits and the consultant is going about this honestly and not requiring other consultants to boost the PQV but relying totally on the first generation of recruits to help them out here. To earn the 6% commission, the consultant has personally sold $744 and accounts for 500 of the 2,500 PQV to get the bonus $145, and gets the commission on that at 35% which is $260.40. On the remaining 2000 PQV which comes from the direct downline, $2861.50 is sold but the commission is 6%, so $171.69 is made. The total amount earned from this scheme alone could be $577.09. 

Your ability to promote to higher ranks and draw on commission and QV from your downline’s downline, however, is dependent on your multi-month achievement of higher PQV (1000 PQV) and SLQV (6000-7500 SLQV) total amounts. If members of your downline are promoted to the same level as your or leap-frog ahead of you, you can claim a one-off credit. However, it appears that this can only be claimed 1 time per rank regardless of how many in your downline are promoted ahead of you. Furthermore, anyone that said downline has recruited are no longer eligible to be counted towards your commissions; this seems like it could disincentivise helping one’s downline develop or at least reinforce the need to keep recruiting a direct downline of newbies. 

Income Disclosure/Earnings Statement?: For 2020, Yes. For 47% of independent consultants, average annual earnings were $229 with the bottom 25% making $5 and the top 25% make $1,801; for many, making $577.09 per month would be a dream but also not enough to retire your husband as it only adds up to $6,925.08 per year.

A 2018 Spinoff article estimated that there were 3500 consultants in NZ with just 12 at the level of Regional Vice President, a rank which does garner more liveable income with the bottom 25% earning $47,177 and the Top 25% earning $72,670 on average. Still, not great numbers.

Is there a “free car”?: Yes. The care of choice is a white Mercedes-Benz. Consultants who reach the Vice President level are eligible for the VP success award, which is an allowance that starts at $385/month to go towards the purchase or lease of the Mercedes-Benz and you also have to affix the Arbonne car emblem to that vehicle. Less than 2% of Independent Consultants earn this award and the award is provided, as per the compensation plan, when the consultant has provided documentation that they have purchased or leased that specific colour and model.

Has a reputation for: Early proponents of vegan and petroleum-free products. Being one of the MLMs specifically named by the FTC due to false claims made by representatives related to COVID-19 as well as misleading income claims. 

Should you be worried?

While Arbonne is thriving now, it did file for chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US in 2009, so it may be on the radar for awhile.  Also, the high number of recalls due to products having unacceptable levels of bacteria, including Salmonella and those of the Staphylococcus variety, should put anyone off but unlike the oil MLMs, most of Arbonne’s products are meant to be ingested.

So, I don’t know what’s worse.

In 2018, Arbonne was frequently named-dropped in mainstream and independent NZ media as both a newish MLM in the NZ market and for some of the recruitment tactics of its employees. The SpinOff had two pieces in 2018 and 2019, Sauce Mag, NZ Herald, all had a go alongside the usual YouTube Anti-MLM channels, which focused more on the false health claims.

There is little to say about Arbonne that hasn’t already been explored previously in this series with Mary Kay and the car rebate or Young Living/doTERRA and their poor health claims and excessive prices. That to make the meagre commission, consultants spend money on products, resources, advertising, and their unpaid time which brings their profit into the negative.

All of it applies to Arbonne too. For $413, you can buy a 30 day detox kit. Thoses fizz sticks that everyone loves can cost over $90 for a pack of 30 and contain the same amount of caffeine as a 250ml can of Coke, which would make your wallet feeling much nicer.

But in view of the spotlight on Megachurches in New Zealand at the moment, I thought 

Arbonne was a good selection for this week due to the close links between the MLM and Destiny Church. Ainsley D reports that Brian Tamaki’s daughter-in-law, Kiri, co-leads the Brisbane campus with her husband Samuel. Kiri’s twitter and instagram accounts still list her as a National Vice President, which places her at the top of the company and was the star of a few YouTube videos on behalf of the Australia/NZ branch here and here. In the posts that Ainsley screenshots, Tamaki makes a connection between her faith and her success in business, integrating the language of the prosperity gospel, with a dash of The Secret.

As always, I highly recommend the videos below.

Kiki Chanel: Arbonne MLM Scam…Consultants make crazy False Health Claims

Cruel World Happy Mind: MLM Mean Girls | Arbonne Consultants | #AntiMLM

Iiluminaughtii: Arbonne, Mediocre at Best

CC Suarez: Joining Arbonne? Watch this first

CC Suarez: Interview with ex-Arbonne Distributor | She was in the top 2%


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Skeptic News: BITE, NESARA, MLM – an acronym special


96

Skeptic News: BITE, NESARA, MLM – an acronym special

NZ Skeptics Newsletter
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BITE, NESARA, MLM – an acronym special

This week’s newsletter seems to have ended up being mostly about acronyms. I’ve written about how to determine what is and isn’t a cult, using the BITE model, drawing from a recent visit I received from a pair of Sister Missionaries. I also try to get to the nugget of truth at the centre of the NESARA conspiracy. Bronwyn takes a look at one of my favourite skeptical topics, MLMs – the scam I love to hate. She’s even promising to write more about some of the MLMs we see in New Zealand, which I’m really looking forward to. Finally Bronwyn wonders whether Finland exists.

Mark Honeychurch


In this week’s newsletter

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Taking a BITE out of Mormonism

Last week I had a couple of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) Missionaries visit me. They called me a few days in advance to ask if it was okay to come round, and then I totally forgot about our meeting until I received a call saying they were having problems finding my house on the street.

I usually welcome religious visitors in my home. I figure that, although it’s not the right place for me to question someone’s religion when I visit their places of worship, when they’re the ones reaching out to try to convert me it’s fair game to give a bit of pushback. I’m still never rude or argumentative, but I’m happy to ask some uncomfortable questions about their beliefs, especially when it comes down to the treatment of minorities. There aren’t many religious groups that score well in that regard!

We talked for an hour or more, and of the two missionaries one was almost at the end of her 18 month mission, and the other was just starting. In fact, this was the very first house visit of her mission. Normally a Mormon mission is a two year event (18 months for women) in another country, but with the advent of COVID international travel has been cancelled and Mormons are finding themselves sent to a destination within their own country. From what I can tell, though, this is often still an exciting occurrence for these domestic missionaries as many of them have never really travelled much – I assume dedicated Mormon families have very little time or money to spend on frivolous activities like holidays.

I know enough about Mormons that when I invited them in I didn’t offer them tea or coffee. Instead we sat down and started chatting about their religion, with me asking questions and them seemingly working through a set of pre-ordained steps that a mission visit is supposed to entail. We had prayers, testimony, the quoting of scripture, a description of what sets Mormons apart from other Christians, and veneration of the current “prophet”, their leader – a man called Russell Nelson. Unsurprisingly, this happens to be an old, white man, and I was shown a printed picture of him as if it was something precious.
 

One of the points I bought up was that their God seems to have always chosen old, white men as the prophet, with nobody of colour ever having been chosen for the top job. In fact, the church didn’t allow anyone of colour to hold a leadership role at all until 1978. And it’ll be no surprise to skeptics to hear that this God also doesn’t want women in leadership roles.

At the end of the meeting (closed with a prayer, of course) I was left with a copy of the Book of Mormon. I said I didn’t need one, as I already have a copy – so now I have two. If you’re interested in learning about the inception of the Mormon church, although this sounds silly, I highly recommend the classic South Park episode about Joseph Smith. Sadly, us in NZ can’t watch the free online version – but if you have a VPN, or own a copy of the Season 7 DVDs, or you’re a pirate, enjoy!

A few days after our chat, I was watching a video from the Genetically Modified Skeptic about the Multi Level Marketing (MLM) scheme his family had been involved with – Young Living essential oils. He mentioned an idea that intrigued me – that under the BITE model, it could be considered that MLMs like Young Living are a form of cult.

Okay, so let’s back up a little. The BITE model is a way of analysing the behaviours of groups to see if they’re likely to be a cult. The model was created by Steven Hassan, who was once a member of the Unification Church (better known as the Moonies) and since leaving the church has been tirelessly helping people who want to leave high control groups like cults.

Steven’s BITE Model breaks down the controlling tendency of cult groups into four areas – Behaviour, Information, Thought and Emotions. Under each of these categories, Steven’s BITE model lists a set of ways that these four aspects can be controlled. For example, under Behaviour Control there’s punishment for disobedience, control over sexual activity, and financial exploitation (among many others). The Information control has six main areas – deception, restricting access to outside info, compartmentalising, spying, internal propaganda, and the use of confession. Thought control includes getting people to change their name, having them reject critical thinking, and pushing an us vs them mentality. Finally, the Emotional control section includes the use of fear, alternating between extremes of affection and rejection, and shunning.

This is far from the only attempt to define what makes a cult. I regularly listen to the Let’s Talk About Sects podcast from Sarah Steel (she’s Australian, so the podcast regularly features content relevant to New Zealand, such as a great couple of episodes on Gloriavale), and quite like the definition she often uses. According to Sarah, a cult is a group:
 

  1. Dominated by a charismatic leader, or leadership, that closely controls its members, particularly with regards to their exercising their free will to disengage with the group and its ideology,

  2. Who believes that they exclusively have access to the truth, and the rest of the world is wrong, and

  3. Who are largely secretive of the workings of their society to outsiders.

The BITE model has been received well by cult researchers, I think because of how well respected Steven is for his deep knowledge of cults, his long time dedication to the subject, and because of the academic work he’s applied to his model – including it being the topic of his recent PhD thesis titled “The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control: Undue Influence, Thought Reform, Brainwashing, Mind Control, Trafficking and the Law”.

And so, having heard the idea that some of the more nefarious MLMs appear to align well with Steven’s BITE model, and with my recent visit from the Mormons still on my mind, I wondered if anyone had tried to apply the BITE model to the Mormon church. Sure enough, when I typed “BITE Model” into the Google search box, before I’d even had a chance to start writing the word Mormon, up popped Google’s suggestions. And there, at the top of the list, was the suggested search phrase “BITE Model Mormonism”.

I clicked on this suggestion, and immediately found a great article where the author had colour coded all the bullet points of each of the four categories – Behavioural, Information, Thought and Emotional Control – according to whether the church of the Latter Day Saints was known to use those techniques to control their members. Red was for regular use, orange for occasional use and green marked techniques that the church was not known to use. Although there were a few green and orange lines (such as sleep deprivation and speaking in tongues), most of the points were coloured red, suggesting that the Mormon church uses a lot of the control techniques that are the hallmarks of a cult.

This got me thinking – what else might the BITE model be relevant to? It seems to be good for assessing fringe religious groups we often consider to be cults, and may also be good at figuring out which of the larger religious groups are using cult techniques for control. But it sounds like it might also be good at assessing how dangerous Multi Level Marketing schemes can be. We’ll hear some more about this from Bronwyn, in her article in this newsletter about MLMs, and possibly also some more details at a later date.

Given my recent crusade against NFTs, I wondered if maybe the insular communities who promote and invest in cryptocurrencies and NFTs – people sometimes called Crypto Bros – would also score highly under the BITE model. But, although there does seem to be some effort to control what information people consume, and there’s talk about outsiders “not understanding crypto” and “spreading FUD” (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), it’s obvious that this fad hasn’t risen to the point of being cult-like. At least, it isn’t that bad yet!

 


Does Finland exist?

 

Bronwyn Rideout

 

While current geopolitical matters might have some Finns wishing they were a tad more invisible, at first pass this is hardly a skeptical topic. But this modern conspiracy is worth a chuckle, especially given the exasperated sighs you’ll get from that one friend who has more than a passing knowledge of statistics.

A popular version of the Finland conspiracy is geographical in nature, claiming that instead of landmass, Finland is just an empty blot of sea. Fuelling this was Reddit user Rarega, who was taking the mickey out of the fluctuating relationship between Japan and Russia through the 20th and 21st centuries, particularly around fishing rights. Because the “Fin” in Finland refers to the fins on a fish, right? Get it?

Another common argument in support of Finland being non-existent is that the so-called Finns don’t even live in Finland, but reside in the bordering countries of Russia, Sweden, and Estonia. This subreddit, r/finlandConspiracy, gives a decent run down as well as this Youtube video by Good Mythical Morning.

If you are a person who likes to bring math into already complicated diplomatic matters, this calculating version of the meme goes like this:

There’s approximately 5.4 million Finnish people in the world, right? That’s out of 7.125 billion humans. That means Finns make up 0.0729% of the planet.

That’s not even a tenth of a percent. That means that more than 99.9% of the world isn’t Finnish. How do we know this? Government censuses.

Now the best government censuses have a margin of error about 1%. So, Finns make up 0.0729% of the planet, plus or minus 1%. In conclusion: There’s a 50/50 chance Finland does not exist

If you really know your memes, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is one of the oldest jokes on the internet, with various towns and regions with even smaller populations being deemed as being fictional.

As of 2020, “Finland’s” population is just over 5.5 million. However, The world’s population that same year was 7.9 billion. Even if we were to believe that anyone lives in Finland, this would still only account for just over 0.07% of the world’s population, meaning it is less likely to exist than it ever was before.

 

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NESARA and GESARA

I’ve recently been seeing mentions of NESARA and GESARA online, in conspiracy groups, and also on a badly painted sign at at least one local protest. So I did a little bit of reading to find out what it’s all about. So, if you’ve seen these terms being used and, like me, have no idea what they mean, here’s a quick description of their real world meaning and what the conspiracy theorists wrongly think they’re all about.

In reality NESARA was the National Economic Security and Recovery Act, a set of economic reforms for the United States that were proposed by Harvey Francis Barnard, an engineering consultant. Barnard wrote a proposal titled “Draining the Swamp: Monetary and Fiscal Policy Reform” in the 1990s, and in it he promoted the idea of his NESARA Act. He sent copies to members of Congress, hoping that they’d see his genius and vote in his new rules. Barnard’s plan was to overhaul large parts of the US economy, with ideas like scrapping income tax (and replacing it with a sales tax), abolishing compound interest on loans, and returning to the Gold Standard (well, technically a “bimetallic currency” of both gold and silver). The bill, unsurprisingly, went nowhere.

In conspiracy circles NESARA (often erroneously called the National Economic Security and Reformation Act or the National Economic Stabilization and Recovery Act) is an Act that not only introduces the Gold Standard and the removal of income tax, but also abolishes the Internal Revenue Service, cancels all personal debt and declares world peace! The Act was apparently successfully voted on back in March 2000, and was then signed into law by Bill Clinton. But just as the law was due to come into force, on September the 11th, 2001, a major terrorist attack put a stop to its implementation. Since then, military officials have been trying in vain to enact this new law. Shaini Goodwin from Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, operating under the name “Dove of Oneness”, appears to have been the genesis of this conspiracy theory, although familiar names such as Sherry Shriner (whose story is documented in a podcast called The Opportunist) also seem to be involved in its spread. UFOs, aliens, Jesus, reptilians and fake wars have all been woven into the story.

GESARA is an extension of the conspiracy side of NESARA, with the G standing for Global instead of the National in NESARA. I guess conspiracy theorists outside of the US were feeling left out, and so an expanded version of this law that would restructure the global financial system was imagined and added to the conspiracy.

So, there we have it. The reality is that NESARA was a crackpot economic idea from someone who didn’t understand economics, and unsurprisingly the US government just ignored it. Conspiracy theorists have taken that idea and run with it, imagining secrets and lies, subterfuge, and a global battle between the forces of good and evil. I can imagine this conspiracy probably appeals to many people, because most of us have some kind of debt in our lives, and it would certainly be nice to wake up one day and have that yoke of debt lifted from our shoulders. But, alas, this idea of our debts being suddenly wiped out one day is not reality – it looked cool when it happened at the end of the movie Fight Club, but it’s just a case of wishful thinking, and a total lack of critical thinking to boot.

 


MLMs and the promise of wealth from your dining room table

 

Bronwyn Rideout

 

What do Avon, Tupperware, Doterra, and Arbonne have in common? They are all businesses in New Zealand that utilise multi-level marketing (MLM) strategies. If you aren’t familiar with the names or the products, ranging from hair care and makeup to herbal supplements, you might at least have come across the sales and recruitment gimmicks they employ. Maybe your Mom was a frequent invitee or hostess for a friend’s sex toy party (Pure Romance) or cooking utensil business (Pampered Chef); maybe your favourite Uncle loved to talk about the conventions and seminars he was attending (Amway). Regardless, the fact remains that they are a controversial marketing model that exploits millions of people worldwide with promises of financial freedom that are only available to those who are placed at the tippy top of the MLMs’ pyramid-like structures.

The core of these operations is a non-salaried workforce (called Independent contractors or distributors) who earn commissions through two revenue streams: one being the products they sell themselves to customers, and the second from bonuses accrued from products purchased/sold by their recruits (often called their “downline”). The latter, for the majority of MLMs, will be the bigger income stream of the two – and it’s where one will find the most controversial practices. A common practice is front- or inventory-loading, whereby the independent contractor pays up front for inventory or “start-up kits” as a means to buy into the MLM’s ranking scheme. However, these products are often overpriced compared to market value, so the real earning power is getting members into your downline to buy those products and start-up kits to rank-up, thereby artificially bolstering your own commissions and rank. Another tactic is auto-shipping, where a customer is enrolled into a subscription programme to receive regular product deliveries and credit card charges; these enrolments may be further incentivised for the contractor to increase their rank, but it is not uncommon for customers to be subscribed without their knowledge or permission.

If the flow of money here sounds a bit pyramidal in its shape, you wouldn’t be far off the mark. While not all MLMs are pyramid schemes, the United States Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) position means there are decidedly few that fall in that category: If the MLM is not a pyramid scheme, it will pay you based on your sales to retail customers, without having to recruit new distributors.

A common argument is that MLMs are not pyramid schemes because they sell products; pyramid schemes only promise money in exchange for recruiting others, but have no product to sell. The FTC takes a dim view of this. To wit:

“The promoters of a pyramid scheme may try to recruit you with pitches about what you’ll earn. They may say you can change your life — quit your job and even get rich — by selling the company’s products. That’s a lie. Your income would be based mostly on how many people you recruit, not how much product you sell. Pyramid schemes are set up to encourage everyone to keep recruiting people to keep a constant stream of new distributors — and their money — flowing into the business.”

The NZ Commerce Commission appears to be considerably more flexible, stating:

No, there are a number of multi-level marketing schemes operating in New Zealand which are not pyramid selling schemes. With multi-level marketing schemes salespeople are expected to sell products directly to consumers. They are separately incentivised to recruit others as fellow salespeople. Participants earn commission from selling products, whereas pyramid selling involves participants earning money solely or primarily by introducing other people into the scheme.

In a multi-level marketing scheme, income expectation is limited by the number of sales, not by the number of new sales representatives. Customers of multi-level marketing companies can buy the goods or services they offer without joining the scheme. Multi-level marketing also usually involves commercially viable products (for example clothing, jewellery, cosmetics, health products, cleaning products and cookware) which present genuine business and income-earning opportunities through sales to clients.

So, why do MLMs still proliferate and prosper?

This is a complex question that ties in the legal permissiveness of the MLM model, the ramifications of the pandemic, the populations that MLMs target, and the strategies used to keep them there.

In the United States, an MLM can be considered legitimate and not a pyramid scheme if at least 70% of all goods sold are purchased by non-distributors. However, this can be difficult to investigate due to the inventory-loading discussed earlier. Some distributors also utilise dummy accounts registered under the name of naive family or friends, thereby falsely presenting them as customers while artificially maintaining their ranks on their MLM’s compensation plan.

In NZ, MLMs are not prohibited by the Fair Trade Act, but there are protections for some MLM customers through the Consumer Guarantees act. If you purchase an MLM item that is not as advertised, especially from a party plan MLM, you do have recourse.

One would think that the pandemic would be the death knell of MLMs, but that would only be true if you thought MLMs were stuck in the dark ages of catalogues and door-to-door sales. But, at least for the successful distributors, the pandemic has been a boon time on multiple levels. Distributors for MLMs like Arbonne and doTerra make health claims that their products are effective in protecting or boosting immunity against the coronavirus, pulling in a consumer base that is scared of the unknown. Others are attracted to the promise of a guaranteed income from working from home in a time where jobs in many industries are disappearing or being furloughed. Social media has also been a boon for the more tech-savvy MLMs as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok allowed devotees unfettered and uninterrupted bandwidth to talk up the benefits of their business and show-off all the wealth and consumer goods they have courtesy of their essential oils or buttery-soft leggings. Influencers with pre-existing and large followings were desirable recruits themselves, due to their wide reach; even with a modest goal of converting 1% of their following into their downline, influences with followings in the 10s or 100s of thousands could start earning sizable commissions on the basis of a selfie or two. The hipness of MLMs is further embedded by some crafty evasion of the MLM label through terms such as direct-selling, influencer-marketing or affiliate-marketing.

A representative’s sphere of influence is no longer limited to a couple of neighbourhood blocks, but instead can be global in scope.

However, there is a dark side to this pandemic gold rush. The fact remains that a large portion of distributors will only earn annual incomes in the double or triple digits. The key document to look for with any MLM is the Income Disclosure statement. Consider this one published by Arbonne for the NZ market. 47% of independent consultants at the lowest rank in the compensation scheme earned an average of $229 per year, with the Top 25 average being $1,801 per annum and the lowest 25 being $5 per annum. Even the next level up is hardly enticing, with an average annual earnings of $2,037 per year.

In the United States, however, loyalty to an MLM has been fatal for many. Attendees at a Paparazzi Accessories (jewellery MLM) convention fell victim to a super spreader event – something that the company itself has not fully addressed to this day.

On the cultural side of things, MLMs and their products are heavily marketed to women. In NZ, the Direct Selling Association of NZ reports that at least 71.5% of the MLM salesforce in NZ is female, while a strong male presence is observed internationally. This is not accidental. Again, the promise of flexible work arrangements and a sisterhood strongly appeals to women, often mothers, who are isolated socially or restricted from re-entering the workforce due to costs of childcare, etc.

As we talked about in Episode 4 of the Yeah…Nah podcast, a strong presence of MLMs in Utah can be attributed to both the lax legal requirements as well as a captive market of connected, educated women with large families who aren’t able to take on traditional careers at this time in their life, but still want to financially contribute. Gimmicks like parties (i.e. Tupperware), conventions (Amway), or some combination of the two (LulaRoe) lean on those insecurities with the promise of a new sisterhood of ambitious women who are cheering on your success. And, if you read Mark’s contribution about the BITE model, that sisterhood will be all too ready to step in to replace the nay-sayers in your life who don’t support your new business.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at several MLMs that are active in NZ and abroad. I will be deconstructing their compensation plans, their products, their social media presence, and what happens to the distributors that don’t succeed, or who decided to turn away from the business. Hopefully, this project can arm New Zealand Skeptics with information that they can use to dissuade friends and family from signing-up with these money pits.




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Skeptic News: BITE, NESARA, MLM – an acronym special


96

Skeptic News: BITE, NESARA, MLM – an acronym special

NZ Skeptics Newsletter
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BITE, NESARA, MLM – an acronym special

This week’s newsletter seems to have ended up being mostly about acronyms. I’ve written about how to determine what is and isn’t a cult, using the BITE model, drawing from a recent visit I received from a pair of Sister Missionaries. I also try to get to the nugget of truth at the centre of the NESARA conspiracy. Bronwyn takes a look at one of my favourite skeptical topics, MLMs – the scam I love to hate. She’s even promising to write more about some of the MLMs we see in New Zealand, which I’m really looking forward to. Finally Bronwyn wonders whether Finland exists.

Mark Honeychurch


In this week’s newsletter

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Taking a BITE out of Mormonism

Last week I had a couple of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) Missionaries visit me. They called me a few days in advance to ask if it was okay to come round, and then I totally forgot about our meeting until I received a call saying they were having problems finding my house on the street.

I usually welcome religious visitors in my home. I figure that, although it’s not the right place for me to question someone’s religion when I visit their places of worship, when they’re the ones reaching out to try to convert me it’s fair game to give a bit of pushback. I’m still never rude or argumentative, but I’m happy to ask some uncomfortable questions about their beliefs, especially when it comes down to the treatment of minorities. There aren’t many religious groups that score well in that regard!

We talked for an hour or more, and of the two missionaries one was almost at the end of her 18 month mission, and the other was just starting. In fact, this was the very first house visit of her mission. Normally a Mormon mission is a two year event (18 months for women) in another country, but with the advent of COVID international travel has been cancelled and Mormons are finding themselves sent to a destination within their own country. From what I can tell, though, this is often still an exciting occurrence for these domestic missionaries as many of them have never really travelled much – I assume dedicated Mormon families have very little time or money to spend on frivolous activities like holidays.

I know enough about Mormons that when I invited them in I didn’t offer them tea or coffee. Instead we sat down and started chatting about their religion, with me asking questions and them seemingly working through a set of pre-ordained steps that a mission visit is supposed to entail. We had prayers, testimony, the quoting of scripture, a description of what sets Mormons apart from other Christians, and veneration of the current “prophet”, their leader – a man called Russell Nelson. Unsurprisingly, this happens to be an old, white man, and I was shown a printed picture of him as if it was something precious.
 

One of the points I bought up was that their God seems to have always chosen old, white men as the prophet, with nobody of colour ever having been chosen for the top job. In fact, the church didn’t allow anyone of colour to hold a leadership role at all until 1978. And it’ll be no surprise to skeptics to hear that this God also doesn’t want women in leadership roles.

At the end of the meeting (closed with a prayer, of course) I was left with a copy of the Book of Mormon. I said I didn’t need one, as I already have a copy – so now I have two. If you’re interested in learning about the inception of the Mormon church, although this sounds silly, I highly recommend the classic South Park episode about Joseph Smith. Sadly, us in NZ can’t watch the free online version – but if you have a VPN, or own a copy of the Season 7 DVDs, or you’re a pirate, enjoy!

A few days after our chat, I was watching a video from the Genetically Modified Skeptic about the Multi Level Marketing (MLM) scheme his family had been involved with – Young Living essential oils. He mentioned an idea that intrigued me – that under the BITE model, it could be considered that MLMs like Young Living are a form of cult.

Okay, so let’s back up a little. The BITE model is a way of analysing the behaviours of groups to see if they’re likely to be a cult. The model was created by Steven Hassan, who was once a member of the Unification Church (better known as the Moonies) and since leaving the church has been tirelessly helping people who want to leave high control groups like cults.

Steven’s BITE Model breaks down the controlling tendency of cult groups into four areas – Behaviour, Information, Thought and Emotions. Under each of these categories, Steven’s BITE model lists a set of ways that these four aspects can be controlled. For example, under Behaviour Control there’s punishment for disobedience, control over sexual activity, and financial exploitation (among many others). The Information control has six main areas – deception, restricting access to outside info, compartmentalising, spying, internal propaganda, and the use of confession. Thought control includes getting people to change their name, having them reject critical thinking, and pushing an us vs them mentality. Finally, the Emotional control section includes the use of fear, alternating between extremes of affection and rejection, and shunning.

This is far from the only attempt to define what makes a cult. I regularly listen to the Let’s Talk About Sects podcast from Sarah Steel (she’s Australian, so the podcast regularly features content relevant to New Zealand, such as a great couple of episodes on Gloriavale), and quite like the definition she often uses. According to Sarah, a cult is a group:
 

  1. Dominated by a charismatic leader, or leadership, that closely controls its members, particularly with regards to their exercising their free will to disengage with the group and its ideology,

  2. Who believes that they exclusively have access to the truth, and the rest of the world is wrong, and

  3. Who are largely secretive of the workings of their society to outsiders.

The BITE model has been received well by cult researchers, I think because of how well respected Steven is for his deep knowledge of cults, his long time dedication to the subject, and because of the academic work he’s applied to his model – including it being the topic of his recent PhD thesis titled “The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control: Undue Influence, Thought Reform, Brainwashing, Mind Control, Trafficking and the Law”.

And so, having heard the idea that some of the more nefarious MLMs appear to align well with Steven’s BITE model, and with my recent visit from the Mormons still on my mind, I wondered if anyone had tried to apply the BITE model to the Mormon church. Sure enough, when I typed “BITE Model” into the Google search box, before I’d even had a chance to start writing the word Mormon, up popped Google’s suggestions. And there, at the top of the list, was the suggested search phrase “BITE Model Mormonism”.

I clicked on this suggestion, and immediately found a great article where the author had colour coded all the bullet points of each of the four categories – Behavioural, Information, Thought and Emotional Control – according to whether the church of the Latter Day Saints was known to use those techniques to control their members. Red was for regular use, orange for occasional use and green marked techniques that the church was not known to use. Although there were a few green and orange lines (such as sleep deprivation and speaking in tongues), most of the points were coloured red, suggesting that the Mormon church uses a lot of the control techniques that are the hallmarks of a cult.

This got me thinking – what else might the BITE model be relevant to? It seems to be good for assessing fringe religious groups we often consider to be cults, and may also be good at figuring out which of the larger religious groups are using cult techniques for control. But it sounds like it might also be good at assessing how dangerous Multi Level Marketing schemes can be. We’ll hear some more about this from Bronwyn, in her article in this newsletter about MLMs, and possibly also some more details at a later date.

Given my recent crusade against NFTs, I wondered if maybe the insular communities who promote and invest in cryptocurrencies and NFTs – people sometimes called Crypto Bros – would also score highly under the BITE model. But, although there does seem to be some effort to control what information people consume, and there’s talk about outsiders “not understanding crypto” and “spreading FUD” (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), it’s obvious that this fad hasn’t risen to the point of being cult-like. At least, it isn’t that bad yet!

 


Does Finland exist?

 

Bronwyn Rideout

 

While current geopolitical matters might have some Finns wishing they were a tad more invisible, at first pass this is hardly a skeptical topic. But this modern conspiracy is worth a chuckle, especially given the exasperated sighs you’ll get from that one friend who has more than a passing knowledge of statistics.

A popular version of the Finland conspiracy is geographical in nature, claiming that instead of landmass, Finland is just an empty blot of sea. Fuelling this was Reddit user Rarega, who was taking the mickey out of the fluctuating relationship between Japan and Russia through the 20th and 21st centuries, particularly around fishing rights. Because the “Fin” in Finland refers to the fins on a fish, right? Get it?

Another common argument in support of Finland being non-existent is that the so-called Finns don’t even live in Finland, but reside in the bordering countries of Russia, Sweden, and Estonia. This subreddit, r/finlandConspiracy, gives a decent run down as well as this Youtube video by Good Mythical Morning.

If you are a person who likes to bring math into already complicated diplomatic matters, this calculating version of the meme goes like this:

There’s approximately 5.4 million Finnish people in the world, right? That’s out of 7.125 billion humans. That means Finns make up 0.0729% of the planet.

That’s not even a tenth of a percent. That means that more than 99.9% of the world isn’t Finnish. How do we know this? Government censuses.

Now the best government censuses have a margin of error about 1%. So, Finns make up 0.0729% of the planet, plus or minus 1%. In conclusion: There’s a 50/50 chance Finland does not exist

If you really know your memes, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is one of the oldest jokes on the internet, with various towns and regions with even smaller populations being deemed as being fictional.

As of 2020, “Finland’s” population is just over 5.5 million. However, The world’s population that same year was 7.9 billion. Even if we were to believe that anyone lives in Finland, this would still only account for just over 0.07% of the world’s population, meaning it is less likely to exist than it ever was before.

 

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NESARA and GESARA

I’ve recently been seeing mentions of NESARA and GESARA online, in conspiracy groups, and also on a badly painted sign at at least one local protest. So I did a little bit of reading to find out what it’s all about. So, if you’ve seen these terms being used and, like me, have no idea what they mean, here’s a quick description of their real world meaning and what the conspiracy theorists wrongly think they’re all about.

In reality NESARA was the National Economic Security and Recovery Act, a set of economic reforms for the United States that were proposed by Harvey Francis Barnard, an engineering consultant. Barnard wrote a proposal titled “Draining the Swamp: Monetary and Fiscal Policy Reform” in the 1990s, and in it he promoted the idea of his NESARA Act. He sent copies to members of Congress, hoping that they’d see his genius and vote in his new rules. Barnard’s plan was to overhaul large parts of the US economy, with ideas like scrapping income tax (and replacing it with a sales tax), abolishing compound interest on loans, and returning to the Gold Standard (well, technically a “bimetallic currency” of both gold and silver). The bill, unsurprisingly, went nowhere.

In conspiracy circles NESARA (often erroneously called the National Economic Security and Reformation Act or the National Economic Stabilization and Recovery Act) is an Act that not only introduces the Gold Standard and the removal of income tax, but also abolishes the Internal Revenue Service, cancels all personal debt and declares world peace! The Act was apparently successfully voted on back in March 2000, and was then signed into law by Bill Clinton. But just as the law was due to come into force, on September the 11th, 2001, a major terrorist attack put a stop to its implementation. Since then, military officials have been trying in vain to enact this new law. Shaini Goodwin from Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, operating under the name “Dove of Oneness”, appears to have been the genesis of this conspiracy theory, although familiar names such as Sherry Shriner (whose story is documented in a podcast called The Opportunist) also seem to be involved in its spread. UFOs, aliens, Jesus, reptilians and fake wars have all been woven into the story.

GESARA is an extension of the conspiracy side of NESARA, with the G standing for Global instead of the National in NESARA. I guess conspiracy theorists outside of the US were feeling left out, and so an expanded version of this law that would restructure the global financial system was imagined and added to the conspiracy.

So, there we have it. The reality is that NESARA was a crackpot economic idea from someone who didn’t understand economics, and unsurprisingly the US government just ignored it. Conspiracy theorists have taken that idea and run with it, imagining secrets and lies, subterfuge, and a global battle between the forces of good and evil. I can imagine this conspiracy probably appeals to many people, because most of us have some kind of debt in our lives, and it would certainly be nice to wake up one day and have that yoke of debt lifted from our shoulders. But, alas, this idea of our debts being suddenly wiped out one day is not reality – it looked cool when it happened at the end of the movie Fight Club, but it’s just a case of wishful thinking, and a total lack of critical thinking to boot.

 


MLMs and the promise of wealth from your dining room table

 

Bronwyn Rideout

 

What do Avon, Tupperware, Doterra, and Arbonne have in common? They are all businesses in New Zealand that utilise multi-level marketing (MLM) strategies. If you aren’t familiar with the names or the products, ranging from hair care and makeup to herbal supplements, you might at least have come across the sales and recruitment gimmicks they employ. Maybe your Mom was a frequent invitee or hostess for a friend’s sex toy party (Pure Romance) or cooking utensil business (Pampered Chef); maybe your favourite Uncle loved to talk about the conventions and seminars he was attending (Amway). Regardless, the fact remains that they are a controversial marketing model that exploits millions of people worldwide with promises of financial freedom that are only available to those who are placed at the tippy top of the MLMs’ pyramid-like structures.

The core of these operations is a non-salaried workforce (called Independent contractors or distributors) who earn commissions through two revenue streams: one being the products they sell themselves to customers, and the second from bonuses accrued from products purchased/sold by their recruits (often called their “downline”). The latter, for the majority of MLMs, will be the bigger income stream of the two – and it’s where one will find the most controversial practices. A common practice is front- or inventory-loading, whereby the independent contractor pays up front for inventory or “start-up kits” as a means to buy into the MLM’s ranking scheme. However, these products are often overpriced compared to market value, so the real earning power is getting members into your downline to buy those products and start-up kits to rank-up, thereby artificially bolstering your own commissions and rank. Another tactic is auto-shipping, where a customer is enrolled into a subscription programme to receive regular product deliveries and credit card charges; these enrolments may be further incentivised for the contractor to increase their rank, but it is not uncommon for customers to be subscribed without their knowledge or permission.

If the flow of money here sounds a bit pyramidal in its shape, you wouldn’t be far off the mark. While not all MLMs are pyramid schemes, the United States Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) position means there are decidedly few that fall in that category: If the MLM is not a pyramid scheme, it will pay you based on your sales to retail customers, without having to recruit new distributors.

A common argument is that MLMs are not pyramid schemes because they sell products; pyramid schemes only promise money in exchange for recruiting others, but have no product to sell. The FTC takes a dim view of this. To wit:

“The promoters of a pyramid scheme may try to recruit you with pitches about what you’ll earn. They may say you can change your life — quit your job and even get rich — by selling the company’s products. That’s a lie. Your income would be based mostly on how many people you recruit, not how much product you sell. Pyramid schemes are set up to encourage everyone to keep recruiting people to keep a constant stream of new distributors — and their money — flowing into the business.”

The NZ Commerce Commission appears to be considerably more flexible, stating:

No, there are a number of multi-level marketing schemes operating in New Zealand which are not pyramid selling schemes. With multi-level marketing schemes salespeople are expected to sell products directly to consumers. They are separately incentivised to recruit others as fellow salespeople. Participants earn commission from selling products, whereas pyramid selling involves participants earning money solely or primarily by introducing other people into the scheme.

In a multi-level marketing scheme, income expectation is limited by the number of sales, not by the number of new sales representatives. Customers of multi-level marketing companies can buy the goods or services they offer without joining the scheme. Multi-level marketing also usually involves commercially viable products (for example clothing, jewellery, cosmetics, health products, cleaning products and cookware) which present genuine business and income-earning opportunities through sales to clients.

So, why do MLMs still proliferate and prosper?

This is a complex question that ties in the legal permissiveness of the MLM model, the ramifications of the pandemic, the populations that MLMs target, and the strategies used to keep them there.

In the United States, an MLM can be considered legitimate and not a pyramid scheme if at least 70% of all goods sold are purchased by non-distributors. However, this can be difficult to investigate due to the inventory-loading discussed earlier. Some distributors also utilise dummy accounts registered under the name of naive family or friends, thereby falsely presenting them as customers while artificially maintaining their ranks on their MLM’s compensation plan.

In NZ, MLMs are not prohibited by the Fair Trade Act, but there are protections for some MLM customers through the Consumer Guarantees act. If you purchase an MLM item that is not as advertised, especially from a party plan MLM, you do have recourse.

One would think that the pandemic would be the death knell of MLMs, but that would only be true if you thought MLMs were stuck in the dark ages of catalogues and door-to-door sales. But, at least for the successful distributors, the pandemic has been a boon time on multiple levels. Distributors for MLMs like Arbonne and doTerra make health claims that their products are effective in protecting or boosting immunity against the coronavirus, pulling in a consumer base that is scared of the unknown. Others are attracted to the promise of a guaranteed income from working from home in a time where jobs in many industries are disappearing or being furloughed. Social media has also been a boon for the more tech-savvy MLMs as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok allowed devotees unfettered and uninterrupted bandwidth to talk up the benefits of their business and show-off all the wealth and consumer goods they have courtesy of their essential oils or buttery-soft leggings. Influencers with pre-existing and large followings were desirable recruits themselves, due to their wide reach; even with a modest goal of converting 1% of their following into their downline, influences with followings in the 10s or 100s of thousands could start earning sizable commissions on the basis of a selfie or two. The hipness of MLMs is further embedded by some crafty evasion of the MLM label through terms such as direct-selling, influencer-marketing or affiliate-marketing.

A representative’s sphere of influence is no longer limited to a couple of neighbourhood blocks, but instead can be global in scope.

However, there is a dark side to this pandemic gold rush. The fact remains that a large portion of distributors will only earn annual incomes in the double or triple digits. The key document to look for with any MLM is the Income Disclosure statement. Consider this one published by Arbonne for the NZ market. 47% of independent consultants at the lowest rank in the compensation scheme earned an average of $229 per year, with the Top 25 average being $1,801 per annum and the lowest 25 being $5 per annum. Even the next level up is hardly enticing, with an average annual earnings of $2,037 per year.

In the United States, however, loyalty to an MLM has been fatal for many. Attendees at a Paparazzi Accessories (jewellery MLM) convention fell victim to a super spreader event – something that the company itself has not fully addressed to this day.

On the cultural side of things, MLMs and their products are heavily marketed to women. In NZ, the Direct Selling Association of NZ reports that at least 71.5% of the MLM salesforce in NZ is female, while a strong male presence is observed internationally. This is not accidental. Again, the promise of flexible work arrangements and a sisterhood strongly appeals to women, often mothers, who are isolated socially or restricted from re-entering the workforce due to costs of childcare, etc.

As we talked about in Episode 4 of the Yeah…Nah podcast, a strong presence of MLMs in Utah can be attributed to both the lax legal requirements as well as a captive market of connected, educated women with large families who aren’t able to take on traditional careers at this time in their life, but still want to financially contribute. Gimmicks like parties (i.e. Tupperware), conventions (Amway), or some combination of the two (LulaRoe) lean on those insecurities with the promise of a new sisterhood of ambitious women who are cheering on your success. And, if you read Mark’s contribution about the BITE model, that sisterhood will be all too ready to step in to replace the nay-sayers in your life who don’t support your new business.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at several MLMs that are active in NZ and abroad. I will be deconstructing their compensation plans, their products, their social media presence, and what happens to the distributors that don’t succeed, or who decided to turn away from the business. Hopefully, this project can arm New Zealand Skeptics with information that they can use to dissuade friends and family from signing-up with these money pits.




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Skeptic News: Deepfakes, HPCA, and can we sell you a plot in Scotland?


96

Skeptic News: Deepfakes, HPCA, and can we sell you a plot in Scotland?

NZ Skeptics Newsletter
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Welcome to the NZ Skeptics Newsletter.

This week, I talk about deepfakes and the implications for propaganda, and detour back in time, reminiscing about speech synthesis technology of yesteryear. 

Our regular contributor, Bronwyn Rideout tells us about the Health Practitioners Comptence Assurance act, and dives into being able to buy small plots of land in Scotland.

Oh, and have you checked out our new podcast yet? See the link down the bottom of the newsletter for details.

Enjoy…
Craig Shearer
 


In this week’s newsletter

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Deepfakes

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, propaganda raises its head. Propaganda has always been a tool of war (and peace) but we’re seeing escalation to new levels.

Recently, a video was shared on social media of the Ukrainian President – Volodymyr Zelendskyy – asking citizens to lay down their arms against the Russian invaders. Analysis by experts has concluded that it’s a poorly done deepfake video. Zelendskyy’s head didn’t really fit his neck, and his head was disproportionate to his body.

So, what is a deepfake video? Deepfake, as Wikipedia describes it, is a portmanteau of “deep learning” and fake. Deep learning, in this instance, is referring to a technique in computer science that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to create new content by analysing existing content.

The technology allows videos and other media to be created where the video appears to show somebody doing or saying something when they were not involved in the video at all.

There have been low quality instances of this for online porn, where celebrity faces are substituted for paid porn actors in an attempt to bolster the popularity of a video. 

And there have been “fun” apps built which allow you to substitute a person’s face into scenes from movies and TV shows, using just a single photograph. With more data, such as more photographs with open and closed eyes, and open and closed mouths, the video can become more realistic.

Ever since the creation of media there have been people who have experimented with faking. In Victorian times, camera double exposures were a common technique to generate a ghostly image of another person in a shot. But surely, all but the most gullible or invested viewer would spot that these were faked. (Although perhaps I’m over-estimating people – we regularly see images with photographic artefacts, such as lens flaring, being claimed as evidence of the paranormal!)

With the advent of film and video, creative editing techniques could be used to fool the viewer, to an extent. 

But recently, the advance of AI and ubiquity of powerful computing technology has advanced to a point where it’s becoming very difficult to tell whether something is fake or not. 

As an example of this, I tried out a website which specialises in producing great-sounding voice overs for promotional videos. The site allows you to paste in your text, then have it rendered as a realistic sounding voice of your choosing – say Ava, a young adult female, or Ethan, a middle-aged male. I tried this out with the opening paragraphs of this item, and it’s surprisingly realistic. Have a listen

While that site allows you to choose from predefined voices, with a suitable budget, AI can analyse anybody’s voice and then produce a facsimile of that voice saying words they never uttered.

As an aside, I experimented with speech synthesiser chips interfaced with 8-bit microcomputers in the mid 1980s. Back then, you could make a computer talk, with an extremely robotic sounding voice (that you often had to strain to understand), by figuring out what phonemes to send to the synthesiser chip to make the words. There’s an example of a project using the SP0256-AL2 chip interfaced to a Zilog Z-80 processor in modern times. (Back in the day, the processor I cut my teeth on was a MOS Technology 6502). So, the speech synthesis of today just blows me away!

Anyway, the skeptical implications of deepfakes are huge. It used to be that seeing was believing – at least to a degree. The resources and technology required to fake somebody doing or saying something they never did were next to impossible. Now, it’s certainly possible to produce something that is good enough to convince enough people that it’s real.

The use of altered video in films has been around for a while. Forrest Gump had amusing use of obviously faked video content. More recently, the For All Mankind series on Apple TV+ included very realistic video of Ronald Reagan, and of The Johnny Carson Show. (The series portrays an alternate reality where the Russians beat the USA to the moon.) And, at the moment, I’m enjoying the Amazon Prime series The Man in the High Castle, which shows an alternate reality where Germany and Japan won World War II, but features films of alternate realities where the allies won. Characters in the series comment on the seeming impossibility that the films could have been faked!

The danger is that future elections will be fought and won using these deepfake techniques. It will be relatively easy to produce an incriminating video of a political opponent saying something distasteful. The converse of this is that nobody will trust anything they see in the media or online (and, are we getting to that point already?) so that, even if a video is real, there will be those that doubt its veracity. And while most people might recognise a fake video, enough might think it’s real to sway opinion enough to affect the outcome of an election.

We should always be very wary about believing something when that thing plays into our own personal biases. The thing is that determining what is real, and what’s generated, is becoming increasingly difficult.

Cycling back to Snopes – their recommendation is that it’s possible to spot a deepfake video by looking at it, and also by considering the source where it’s posted. I contend that simply looking at the video and figuring out whether it’s real or not will become increasingly difficult over time. Checking where it is posted is a good indicator though – did it appear on the usual channels, or has it arisen from somewhere unknown or suspicious. Of course, hackers might also have the ability to post content through seemingly trustworthy channels.

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Midwife, Doctor, Psychologist, Chiropractor

The New Zealand HPCA Act and what’s in a name

Bronwyn Rideout

The Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 intends to protect the public from serious or permanent harm while also protecting health practitioners through the power to restrict certain activities and ensure that the health care practitioner (HCP) remains within their scope of practice. In short, the Act establishes who can and what is required for an individual to legally claim that they are a Nurse, Doctor, or Midwife and their responsibilities thereafter.

There are several key provisions which allow Kiwi’s to determine whether the claim one makes to being a health care practitioner is valid.

It’s a document that has a lot of ANDs rather than ORs when it comes to mandatory requirements.

As in (emphasis is mine), 

A person may only use names, words, titles, initials, abbreviations, or descriptions stating or implying that the person is a health practitioner of a particular kind if the person is registered, and is qualified to be registered, as a health practitioner of that kind.

As well as

No person may claim to be practising a profession as a health practitioner of a particular kind or state or do anything that is calculated to suggest that the person practises or is willing to practise a profession as a health practitioner of that kind unless the person—

(a)   is a health practitioner of that kind; and

(b)   holds a current practising certificate as a health practitioner of that kind.

Qualifications and completion of examinations also play a key role in this process and the nuances of that end are not the purview of this article. Still, it is on completion of one’s education and a national exam that a HCP is able to register as a practitioner in their chosen field.

However, being on the register is not the only thing that is required in order for a HCP to practice in their field. HCPs must submit to an ongoing recertification programme with continuing education or professional hours alongside working within their prescribed scope of practice. This is called an Annual Practising Certificate or APC; a current APC is required in order to actually work as an HCP.

Life, as it does, can get in the way. Being absent from the register is not completely nefarious; people do request removal of their own accord due to change in life circumstances such as overseas moves and retirement. Statutory bodies allow HCPs to remain on the register without an APC for a period of at least 3 years before requiring the HCP to undergo a retraining or return to practice programme to get the HCP up to speed on NZ requirements. How this is organised is on a case-by-case basis dependent on where and what the HCP was doing during the period they were not practising in NZ. Some HCP get around this by working overseas and returning to NZ intermittently to complete the core requirements necessary to achieve (and pay for) an APC that will not be used in NZ.

So, an HCP can still call themselves a nurse, psychologist, midwife, doctor, etc. without having an APC as long as they are not practising AND are still on their professional register as a practitioner in good standing BUT they can absolutely not practice NOR refer to themselves by their professional title if they are not registered. The various statutory bodies have mechanisms for the public to report people claiming to be HCP without the mandatory registration and fines up to $10,000 can be levied against the accused.

Long before the pandemic, there were always opportunistic individuals who made claims to being Doctors etc., bending the truth about their ability to practice i.e. presenting themselves as a medical Doctor when they have a doctoral degree (looking at you Dr. Phil). Mark Hanna and Jane Glover both wrote blogs about how the title of doctor can be misconstrued for advertising purposes due to the business owner holding a PhD or similar qualification. However, the case regarding homeopath consultant Dr. Preet demonstrates there are still some loopholes given how the courtesy title of doctor is awarded elsewhere around the world. On the other hand, the New Zealand Psychologists Board takes this matter very seriously.

If in doubt about claims made by someone claiming to be a health care practitioner, you can search the relevant online register that is publicly available on the website for that professions regulatory body or contact the Ministry of Health’s Enforcement Team.

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A dime a thousand

The many Lords and Ladies of Glencoe and the matter of souvenir Scottish titles

Bronwyn Rideout
 

No true Scotsman…buys souvenir plots

Advertisements for a small block of land and an accompanying Scottish title have cluttered the promotional section of weekend editions and the side bars of websites. They remained on my periphery until recently when a media commentary YouTube channel I frequent aired their own promotion for such an enterprise. I always relegated these schemes (and the spin-off industry of naming/owning a star) not as an outright scam but more of a scheme where everyone is in on the joke of some obscure loophole in Scotland’s property laws.

Selling of souvenir plots has been a cottage industry in the United Kingdom for almost 50 years. For a pocketful of dollars, one could purchase a little piece of Scotland and call themselves a Laird, Lord, or Lady. Sir Geoffrey Howe, then solicitor-general, summed up the appeal of these plots very nicely in his 1971 speech to the House of Commons:

“A trade had grown up in recent years in order to please tourists mainly from North America … whereby they are able to purchase a ‘square foot of Old England’ for a comparatively modest sum…. It helps the balance of payments….. and it gladdens the hearts of our continental cousins and enables them to obtain a splendidly medieval looking deed of title, which, no doubt, they display at some appropriate place in their homes.”

The question is: can you really buy land and a piece of the peerage for $60?

The answer, once you read the fine print, is no!

The potential profit is tidy. Highland Titles Ltd. sells a variety of plots from starting at $60 NZD for 1 square-foot to $300 NZD for 100 square-feet. Taking a look at the math, selling a smaller portion of land is far more profitable than selling a larger one; with more than 400 acres of land available spread out over 5 reserves, they are unlikely to run out of space anytime soon. Even better, in the not so fine print of the website they state that they maintain ownership and management of the land. Established Titles, owned by Hong Kong competitor Katerina Yip/Galton Voysey, has a different pricing scheme with the smallest plot going for approximately $50 NZD and 10 square-foot plots selling for $350

So what loophole do these schemes exploit?

Regarding the use of titles, subject to good faith there are no obstacles to calling yourself a Laird, Lord, or Lady in Scotland. However, it is not possible to buy nobility titles. Elizabeth Roads, clerk for The Court of the Lord Lyon and keeper of the records (which oversees heraldry matters) makes it quite clear souvenir plot owners are ineligible for a coat of arms or real claims to said titles. According to the Court, titles of Lord and Lady do not relate to ownership of the land; Laird is not a title attached to a personal name but a specific description applied to a sizable parcel of land. 

To manoeuvre around this, some sellers stretch their intellectual property to the legal limit. Highland Titles Ltd claim they are being tongue-in-cheek by giving buyers permission to use their registered trademarks of Laird of Glencoe™, Lord of Glencoe™ and Lady of Glencoe™. As this is not a true aristocratic title, it should not be stated on a passport or other forms of identification but, some reports indicate otherwise.

As for the land, again, it’s all smoke and mirrors.

In 1979, souvenir plots were defined in Scottish law in section 4(1)b of the Land Registration Act of 1979, whereby a souvenir plot of land is land “…being of inconsiderable size or no practical utility, is unlikely to be wanted in isolation except for the sake of mere ownership or for sentimental reasons or commemorative purposes”. Consequently, these pieces of land cannot be registered in the Land Registry or the General Register of Sasines. In 2012, updates to Section 22 of the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012 go further by replacing the or with and with further caveats of the land neither being a registered plot nor ownership of which being transferred or constituted in the Register of the Sasines at any time.

The Buyer is not conferred with real rights in the eyes of Scots Property Law, only a contractual right with the Seller. It is a nuance in Scots law that distinguishes between real and personal rights. Without registration, the buyer only has personal and not real right of ownership. Should the land in question be bought by a second-party in a manner that enables them to register the land, the original purchaser could not prevent that sale and may only be able to seek legal remedy from the seller. To the credit of these companies, there is no evidence of double selling plots and guarantees that your plot is “yours” appears “genuine”; you can even pass the land down to your descendants.

During Howe’s original speech, he was concerned that including souvenir plots in the Land Registry would quickly overwhelm the resources available. In England, where similar schemes operated, the government changed their laws in 2002 to require the registration of souvenir plots and appeared to have coped alright.

In recent years, the business model has survived as companies change tactics. Some lean more on the novelty element while others emphasise their conservation partnerships. Bandai Namco recently partnered with Highland Titles in promoting the recent release of the game Elden Ring, hosting a competition in which a souvenir plot was the main prize. Highland Titles has also popped up in Oscar news with plots being included in the infamous nominee gift bags.  Regardless of how they rebrand, these business models must be scrutinised. When doubled-up with a conservation project, there is a lack of transparency and oversight with how these businesses operate and develop the land as nature reserves while also promising clients access to their “plot” and not releasing financial reports. In Scotland, these sales are seen as demeaning and criticise them for the commodification of the country. Most importantly, people do buy into these schemes believing that they legitimately did confer some form of rights and ownership, whether it is a square of unsightly land in Scotland or naming a star millions of light years away. Given that the Court of Lord Lyon does receive applications for a coat of arms for these plots, these schemes are a lot less fun and a lot more exploitative.

Until these companies engage in more honest advertising practices, skeptics in NZ can make complaints to the ASA or to the content provider and social media outlet if and when these schemes are promoted.



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Skeptic News: Deepfakes, HPCA, and can we sell you a plot in Scotland?


96

Skeptic News: Deepfakes, HPCA, and can we sell you a plot in Scotland?

NZ Skeptics Newsletter
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Welcome to the NZ Skeptics Newsletter.

This week, I talk about deepfakes and the implications for propaganda, and detour back in time, reminiscing about speech synthesis technology of yesteryear. 

Our regular contributor, Bronwyn Rideout tells us about the Health Practitioners Comptence Assurance act, and dives into being able to buy small plots of land in Scotland.

Oh, and have you checked out our new podcast yet? See the link down the bottom of the newsletter for details.

Enjoy…
Craig Shearer
 


In this week’s newsletter

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Deepfakes

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, propaganda raises its head. Propaganda has always been a tool of war (and peace) but we’re seeing escalation to new levels.

Recently, a video was shared on social media of the Ukrainian President – Volodymyr Zelendskyy – asking citizens to lay down their arms against the Russian invaders. Analysis by experts has concluded that it’s a poorly done deepfake video. Zelendskyy’s head didn’t really fit his neck, and his head was disproportionate to his body.

So, what is a deepfake video? Deepfake, as Wikipedia describes it, is a portmanteau of “deep learning” and fake. Deep learning, in this instance, is referring to a technique in computer science that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to create new content by analysing existing content.

The technology allows videos and other media to be created where the video appears to show somebody doing or saying something when they were not involved in the video at all.

There have been low quality instances of this for online porn, where celebrity faces are substituted for paid porn actors in an attempt to bolster the popularity of a video. 

And there have been “fun” apps built which allow you to substitute a person’s face into scenes from movies and TV shows, using just a single photograph. With more data, such as more photographs with open and closed eyes, and open and closed mouths, the video can become more realistic.

Ever since the creation of media there have been people who have experimented with faking. In Victorian times, camera double exposures were a common technique to generate a ghostly image of another person in a shot. But surely, all but the most gullible or invested viewer would spot that these were faked. (Although perhaps I’m over-estimating people – we regularly see images with photographic artefacts, such as lens flaring, being claimed as evidence of the paranormal!)

With the advent of film and video, creative editing techniques could be used to fool the viewer, to an extent. 

But recently, the advance of AI and ubiquity of powerful computing technology has advanced to a point where it’s becoming very difficult to tell whether something is fake or not. 

As an example of this, I tried out a website which specialises in producing great-sounding voice overs for promotional videos. The site allows you to paste in your text, then have it rendered as a realistic sounding voice of your choosing – say Ava, a young adult female, or Ethan, a middle-aged male. I tried this out with the opening paragraphs of this item, and it’s surprisingly realistic. Have a listen

While that site allows you to choose from predefined voices, with a suitable budget, AI can analyse anybody’s voice and then produce a facsimile of that voice saying words they never uttered.

As an aside, I experimented with speech synthesiser chips interfaced with 8-bit microcomputers in the mid 1980s. Back then, you could make a computer talk, with an extremely robotic sounding voice (that you often had to strain to understand), by figuring out what phonemes to send to the synthesiser chip to make the words. There’s an example of a project using the SP0256-AL2 chip interfaced to a Zilog Z-80 processor in modern times. (Back in the day, the processor I cut my teeth on was a MOS Technology 6502). So, the speech synthesis of today just blows me away!

Anyway, the skeptical implications of deepfakes are huge. It used to be that seeing was believing – at least to a degree. The resources and technology required to fake somebody doing or saying something they never did were next to impossible. Now, it’s certainly possible to produce something that is good enough to convince enough people that it’s real.

The use of altered video in films has been around for a while. Forrest Gump had amusing use of obviously faked video content. More recently, the For All Mankind series on Apple TV+ included very realistic video of Ronald Reagan, and of The Johnny Carson Show. (The series portrays an alternate reality where the Russians beat the USA to the moon.) And, at the moment, I’m enjoying the Amazon Prime series The Man in the High Castle, which shows an alternate reality where Germany and Japan won World War II, but features films of alternate realities where the allies won. Characters in the series comment on the seeming impossibility that the films could have been faked!

The danger is that future elections will be fought and won using these deepfake techniques. It will be relatively easy to produce an incriminating video of a political opponent saying something distasteful. The converse of this is that nobody will trust anything they see in the media or online (and, are we getting to that point already?) so that, even if a video is real, there will be those that doubt its veracity. And while most people might recognise a fake video, enough might think it’s real to sway opinion enough to affect the outcome of an election.

We should always be very wary about believing something when that thing plays into our own personal biases. The thing is that determining what is real, and what’s generated, is becoming increasingly difficult.

Cycling back to Snopes – their recommendation is that it’s possible to spot a deepfake video by looking at it, and also by considering the source where it’s posted. I contend that simply looking at the video and figuring out whether it’s real or not will become increasingly difficult over time. Checking where it is posted is a good indicator though – did it appear on the usual channels, or has it arisen from somewhere unknown or suspicious. Of course, hackers might also have the ability to post content through seemingly trustworthy channels.

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Midwife, Doctor, Psychologist, Chiropractor

The New Zealand HPCA Act and what’s in a name

Bronwyn Rideout

The Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 intends to protect the public from serious or permanent harm while also protecting health practitioners through the power to restrict certain activities and ensure that the health care practitioner (HCP) remains within their scope of practice. In short, the Act establishes who can and what is required for an individual to legally claim that they are a Nurse, Doctor, or Midwife and their responsibilities thereafter.

There are several key provisions which allow Kiwi’s to determine whether the claim one makes to being a health care practitioner is valid.

It’s a document that has a lot of ANDs rather than ORs when it comes to mandatory requirements.

As in (emphasis is mine), 

A person may only use names, words, titles, initials, abbreviations, or descriptions stating or implying that the person is a health practitioner of a particular kind if the person is registered, and is qualified to be registered, as a health practitioner of that kind.

As well as

No person may claim to be practising a profession as a health practitioner of a particular kind or state or do anything that is calculated to suggest that the person practises or is willing to practise a profession as a health practitioner of that kind unless the person—

(a)   is a health practitioner of that kind; and

(b)   holds a current practising certificate as a health practitioner of that kind.

Qualifications and completion of examinations also play a key role in this process and the nuances of that end are not the purview of this article. Still, it is on completion of one’s education and a national exam that a HCP is able to register as a practitioner in their chosen field.

However, being on the register is not the only thing that is required in order for a HCP to practice in their field. HCPs must submit to an ongoing recertification programme with continuing education or professional hours alongside working within their prescribed scope of practice. This is called an Annual Practising Certificate or APC; a current APC is required in order to actually work as an HCP.

Life, as it does, can get in the way. Being absent from the register is not completely nefarious; people do request removal of their own accord due to change in life circumstances such as overseas moves and retirement. Statutory bodies allow HCPs to remain on the register without an APC for a period of at least 3 years before requiring the HCP to undergo a retraining or return to practice programme to get the HCP up to speed on NZ requirements. How this is organised is on a case-by-case basis dependent on where and what the HCP was doing during the period they were not practising in NZ. Some HCP get around this by working overseas and returning to NZ intermittently to complete the core requirements necessary to achieve (and pay for) an APC that will not be used in NZ.

So, an HCP can still call themselves a nurse, psychologist, midwife, doctor, etc. without having an APC as long as they are not practising AND are still on their professional register as a practitioner in good standing BUT they can absolutely not practice NOR refer to themselves by their professional title if they are not registered. The various statutory bodies have mechanisms for the public to report people claiming to be HCP without the mandatory registration and fines up to $10,000 can be levied against the accused.

Long before the pandemic, there were always opportunistic individuals who made claims to being Doctors etc., bending the truth about their ability to practice i.e. presenting themselves as a medical Doctor when they have a doctoral degree (looking at you Dr. Phil). Mark Hanna and Jane Glover both wrote blogs about how the title of doctor can be misconstrued for advertising purposes due to the business owner holding a PhD or similar qualification. However, the case regarding homeopath consultant Dr. Preet demonstrates there are still some loopholes given how the courtesy title of doctor is awarded elsewhere around the world. On the other hand, the New Zealand Psychologists Board takes this matter very seriously.

If in doubt about claims made by someone claiming to be a health care practitioner, you can search the relevant online register that is publicly available on the website for that professions regulatory body or contact the Ministry of Health’s Enforcement Team.

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A dime a thousand

The many Lords and Ladies of Glencoe and the matter of souvenir Scottish titles

Bronwyn Rideout
 

No true Scotsman…buys souvenir plots

Advertisements for a small block of land and an accompanying Scottish title have cluttered the promotional section of weekend editions and the side bars of websites. They remained on my periphery until recently when a media commentary YouTube channel I frequent aired their own promotion for such an enterprise. I always relegated these schemes (and the spin-off industry of naming/owning a star) not as an outright scam but more of a scheme where everyone is in on the joke of some obscure loophole in Scotland’s property laws.

Selling of souvenir plots has been a cottage industry in the United Kingdom for almost 50 years. For a pocketful of dollars, one could purchase a little piece of Scotland and call themselves a Laird, Lord, or Lady. Sir Geoffrey Howe, then solicitor-general, summed up the appeal of these plots very nicely in his 1971 speech to the House of Commons:

“A trade had grown up in recent years in order to please tourists mainly from North America … whereby they are able to purchase a ‘square foot of Old England’ for a comparatively modest sum…. It helps the balance of payments….. and it gladdens the hearts of our continental cousins and enables them to obtain a splendidly medieval looking deed of title, which, no doubt, they display at some appropriate place in their homes.”

The question is: can you really buy land and a piece of the peerage for $60?

The answer, once you read the fine print, is no!

The potential profit is tidy. Highland Titles Ltd. sells a variety of plots from starting at $60 NZD for 1 square-foot to $300 NZD for 100 square-feet. Taking a look at the math, selling a smaller portion of land is far more profitable than selling a larger one; with more than 400 acres of land available spread out over 5 reserves, they are unlikely to run out of space anytime soon. Even better, in the not so fine print of the website they state that they maintain ownership and management of the land. Established Titles, owned by Hong Kong competitor Katerina Yip/Galton Voysey, has a different pricing scheme with the smallest plot going for approximately $50 NZD and 10 square-foot plots selling for $350

So what loophole do these schemes exploit?

Regarding the use of titles, subject to good faith there are no obstacles to calling yourself a Laird, Lord, or Lady in Scotland. However, it is not possible to buy nobility titles. Elizabeth Roads, clerk for The Court of the Lord Lyon and keeper of the records (which oversees heraldry matters) makes it quite clear souvenir plot owners are ineligible for a coat of arms or real claims to said titles. According to the Court, titles of Lord and Lady do not relate to ownership of the land; Laird is not a title attached to a personal name but a specific description applied to a sizable parcel of land. 

To manoeuvre around this, some sellers stretch their intellectual property to the legal limit. Highland Titles Ltd claim they are being tongue-in-cheek by giving buyers permission to use their registered trademarks of Laird of Glencoe™, Lord of Glencoe™ and Lady of Glencoe™. As this is not a true aristocratic title, it should not be stated on a passport or other forms of identification but, some reports indicate otherwise.

As for the land, again, it’s all smoke and mirrors.

In 1979, souvenir plots were defined in Scottish law in section 4(1)b of the Land Registration Act of 1979, whereby a souvenir plot of land is land “…being of inconsiderable size or no practical utility, is unlikely to be wanted in isolation except for the sake of mere ownership or for sentimental reasons or commemorative purposes”. Consequently, these pieces of land cannot be registered in the Land Registry or the General Register of Sasines. In 2012, updates to Section 22 of the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012 go further by replacing the or with and with further caveats of the land neither being a registered plot nor ownership of which being transferred or constituted in the Register of the Sasines at any time.

The Buyer is not conferred with real rights in the eyes of Scots Property Law, only a contractual right with the Seller. It is a nuance in Scots law that distinguishes between real and personal rights. Without registration, the buyer only has personal and not real right of ownership. Should the land in question be bought by a second-party in a manner that enables them to register the land, the original purchaser could not prevent that sale and may only be able to seek legal remedy from the seller. To the credit of these companies, there is no evidence of double selling plots and guarantees that your plot is “yours” appears “genuine”; you can even pass the land down to your descendants.

During Howe’s original speech, he was concerned that including souvenir plots in the Land Registry would quickly overwhelm the resources available. In England, where similar schemes operated, the government changed their laws in 2002 to require the registration of souvenir plots and appeared to have coped alright.

In recent years, the business model has survived as companies change tactics. Some lean more on the novelty element while others emphasise their conservation partnerships. Bandai Namco recently partnered with Highland Titles in promoting the recent release of the game Elden Ring, hosting a competition in which a souvenir plot was the main prize. Highland Titles has also popped up in Oscar news with plots being included in the infamous nominee gift bags.  Regardless of how they rebrand, these business models must be scrutinised. When doubled-up with a conservation project, there is a lack of transparency and oversight with how these businesses operate and develop the land as nature reserves while also promising clients access to their “plot” and not releasing financial reports. In Scotland, these sales are seen as demeaning and criticise them for the commodification of the country. Most importantly, people do buy into these schemes believing that they legitimately did confer some form of rights and ownership, whether it is a square of unsightly land in Scotland or naming a star millions of light years away. Given that the Court of Lord Lyon does receive applications for a coat of arms for these plots, these schemes are a lot less fun and a lot more exploitative.

Until these companies engage in more honest advertising practices, skeptics in NZ can make complaints to the ASA or to the content provider and social media outlet if and when these schemes are promoted.



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Skeptic News: Protest finale, Investigative journalism? RIP Shane Warne and more.


96

Skeptic News: Protest finale, Investigative journalism? RIP Shane Warne and more.

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NZ Skeptics Newsletter


We have a bumper issue of the newsletter this week, with contributions from quite a few people. And what a week it’s been! The main event of the week, here in our country, has been the end of the protest at Parliament in Wellington. It came to a fairly quick end once the police moved in. In a previous newsletter, I’d expressed concern at how much leeway the police were giving protestors. I think, with the actions of last week, it was becoming clear that the protestors needed to be moved on. 

It’s been interesting to monitor the social media accounts of those behind the protests and see how much they’re rationalising things (at least in my opinion). They’re clearly “smarting” from the perceived loss – especially in that they didn’t achieve their goal of ending mandates and having the government meet with them directly.

Of course, the world is focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I’ve nothing specific to say about that in this newsletter apart from acknowledging the situation. It’s certainly likely that misinformation and propaganda will play a part, and has already done so with Putin’s announcements.

There’s plenty to talk about, so let’s dig in.

Craig Shearer

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Protest finale

Last Wednesday, the “anti-mandate” protest at the Parliament Grounds in Wellington, which had lasted for 23 days, came to an end. It was not an end that the protestors wanted, but was forced on them by police action. 

Over the past few weeks, Mark and I have written about the protest. It initially started out as something of a curiosity, and Mark visited it in person. Over time, it appears to have become increasingly dangerous, with many protestors displaying increasing hostility toward those not agreeing with their cause(s).

Despite protestations to the contrary; that the protest was peaceful; that all they wanted was dialogue with the government about ending mandates, there were numerous examples, caught on social media video posts, where less-than-peaceful behaviour was on display.

And the protest was never just about ending vaccine mandates. The protestors covered a vast array of topics including those that wanted an end to the government, including executions of politicians and media. Most protestors were firmly anti-vaccine. All, it would seem, were in the grips of rampant mis- and dis-information.

There were undoubtedly some highly organised groups behind the event. I’ve written many times about Voices for Freedom, and Mark has covered other groups such as Counterspin Media and their people. Voices for Freedom, identified by their distinctive colouring of their signs and t-shirts, were on full display. 

With the arrival of the Omicron variant of Covid on our shores and a lot of community transmission, it became clear that the protest would be a super-spreader event. Protestors were invariably maskless, and,being  camped on site, living in close quarters for extended periods.

Amusingly, symptoms of Covid were blamed on EMF weapons, and we saw images of protestors wearing tinfoil hats, in a misguided attempt to reduce their susceptibility to EMF radiation. It does seem clear that a large number of people at the protest now have Covid, though most are resistant to testing so it’s unlikely we’ll know the full extent of the infection.

On the day that it all ended it was all shown on video – with various prolific “alternative media” channels covering things in great detail. I spent a bit of time watching it all unfold on Chantelle Baker’s livestream on Facebook. 

We’ve covered Chantelle Baker before, but briefly she’s the daughter of ex-New Conservative Party leader Leighton Baker. (Baker senior was also at the protests, and got arrested, and, as a bonus, has tested positive for Covid.) Her livestream commentary on the day was quite enlightening. There were moments where she witnessed less than savoury behaviour, and called it out. There were also times where she suggested that the “bad actors” were actually Antifa people rather than genuine protestors. I guess that’s a good example of cognitive dissonance and the No True Scotsman fallacy at work

Image from Braden Fastier/Stuff

The police ended up using pepper spray on protestors. Amusingly, we saw images of people treating the pepper spray by pouring milk into their eyes – a clear misunderstanding of just how that works – water would work better, whereas milk, not being sterile, could possibly lead to an infection especially after the eyes have been aggravated by the pepper spray. It would seem that people thought that when you have hot food, milk is good for that. The way that works is that the fat in the milk forms a protective layer on the tongue to insulate the taste buds from the chemicals causing the hot sensation. That’s not going to work on your eyes.

Towards the end of the day things devolved into tents being set alight, and there was certainly the danger of the fire spreading uncontrollably (with all that hay on the ground), with consequent danger to protestors and police. Chantelle Baker claimed, or at least gave air to comments that suggested that the police started the fires – by knocking over a generator in a tent. Later analysis of video from the day showed that the police were about 5 metres away from the tent when the fire started. More details about the fire here

I personally witnessed, on Baker’s livestream, instances of protestors throwing items into the fire in an effort to make it bigger – items including gas bottles! And I also saw a person actively transferring fire from one tent to another.

Near the end, protestors were seen digging up paving stones to throw at police. 

The videos taken on the day will make useful viewing for the police in identifying people who actually performed criminal acts (over and above the act of trespassing on the grounds). It would seem that some livestream videos are being removed from social media, in an attempt to hide the evidence, but I’m reliably informed that it’s already been saved elsewhere.

There are clear parallels with the January 6th attack on the US Capitol, and it seems that at least some of the protestors were hoping that an actual storming of parliament would take place. We can only hope that police here take swifter action to hold the criminal elements and organisers to account than appears to be happening in the US.

There’s clearly a misinformation epidemic in the world, and we’re not isolated from it here in Aotearoa/New Zealand. While the protest has now been shut down, I don’t expect that the underlying causes will go away anytime soon.

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Investigative journalism?

Speaking of Voices for Freedom, last weekend investigative journalist Melanie Reid from Newsroom did a video piece on the protest – Visit to Freedom Village – which featured the Voices for Freedom leaders in a very positive light.

Melanie Reid is no stranger to controversy. Back in 2017 she did an investigation into the debunked anti-vax film Vaxxed, portraying it in a positive light. 

And way back in 2004, NZ Skeptics awarded Melanie Reid our Bent Spoon award for her coverage of claimed psychic medium Jeanette Wilson. At the time, Reid was on TV3’s 20/20 programme, and Wilson had a series called Dare to Believe. Reid’s investigation on the 20/20 documentary programme of Wilson’s purported psychic powers came to the conclusion that she was genuine!

Back to the video from last week, Reid portrayed the three Voices for Freedom women as just concerned mums, and asked no critical questions.

Reid should have probed their anti-vaccination stance, and questioned whether they were vaccinated. She should have asked why they claim the protest is all about ending mandates when all of their communications heavily promote anti-vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories.

She should have also asked them more about their funding sources. While she asked the question, she allowed Claire Deeks to waffle on about how their funding was largely from individuals in small amounts.

In reality, Voices for Freedom, while claiming to be a not for profit organisation, is a limited liability company with the three women as directors. Their own FAQ page on their website claims they will make information about their finances public:

“Like any well run organisation receiving funding we intend to provide basic information on finances such as to provide accountability and transparency at appropriate junctures and at least annually.”

To date, after being in existence for over two years, they have not done so. Voices for Freedom is a large misinformation organisation – spending large sums of money convincing people not to be vaccinated, and spreading conspiracy theories.

Today, Radio New Zealand did a piece which criticised Reid’s Newsroom video which makes very interesting reading and listening

In the accompanying podcast, a person (who remains anonymous) tells the story of how he was concerned about the lack of vetting of vaccine injury stories. He decided to submit some made up stories of his own to an anti-vax website and was then contacted by Melanie Reid to do an interview on vaccine injury. It would appear that Reid sits firmly in the anti-vax camp herself.

Committee member, Jonathon Harper has these comments:

So what is a skeptic to make of all this?

  1. previous serious credulity and gullibility may be a predictor of  future behaviour
  2. the conspirators are partly right in that mainstream media cannot always be trusted
  3. nevertheless, VFF seized upon Reid’s reporting apparently claiming it is reliable
  4. maybe Ardern and other politicians were correct in refusing to talk with VFF etc (there may have been a slight benefit by reducing paranoia, but I think not enough)

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Freedoms

Just what are freedoms that the protest groups are saying are being trampled on and restricted? Two senior lecturers in Psychology at the University of Canterbury wrote a good piece on The Conversation, defining what is meant by freedom – the concepts of negative and positive liberty.

At the heart of this lies the distinction between a narrow conception of freedom known as “negative liberty” and the wider concept of “positive liberty”. The former, seemingly preferred by the protesters, implies a freedom from imposed restrictions on people’s behaviour – such as lockdowns and vaccine passes or mandates.

The counter-argument is that reasonable restrictions, if justified to prevent significant harm from COVID-19, actually increase overall freedom. In that sense, the freedom to behave in certain ways becomes a “positive liberty”.

It’s a good read, and nicely lays out how negative liberties and positive liberties interact.

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Liz Gunn

I’ve written about Liz Gunn before. She used to be a respected broadcaster on TVNZ’s One News, but has now gone well down the rabbit hole. Last year she claimed that an earthquake was Mother Nature’s response to Jacinda Adern’s Covid-19 response . She announced her FreeNZ movement, which appears to have political aspirations. 

She was present at the protests, and has now appeared on the disinformation outlet Counterspin Media. 

There’s a clip of parts of her interview here, claiming that she got sick at the protest from stuff that the government put on the crowd that affected people’s immune systems. She’s clearly sick from Covid (ok, that’s the most likely explanation – maybe she’s got a bad cold – I’m not a doctor!)

You can watch the video on YouTube

She even questions the legitimacy of Jacinda Adern’s prime ministership, claiming that that will be examined one day, when the people take back power.

The interview had to end when she complained of her temperature spiking and having trouble breathing. 

Hopefully she pulls through her Covid infection successfully. Will she infect others? Will this make her realise that Covid is real? Will we see more of her in the future?

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RIP Shane Warne

We don’t often cover sports stories in our newsletter, and I’m certainly not one for writing them, but yesterday we heard the news of the untimely death of Shane Warne, the Australian Cricketer. Warne was only 52 and died of a heart attack.

It didn’t take long, but the anti-vax crowd have come out and blamed the Covid vaccine for Warne’s death.

Of note are Dr Guy Hatchard – who’s been featured by Voices for Freedom, and Free NZ (Liz Gunn’s outfit) – and Pete Evans.

Interestingly Dr Guy Hatchard has a Ph.D, a fact touted by those promoting him. If you dig deeper though, his Ph.D is from Maharishi International University  in Iowa in the US. His doctorate is listed as a Doctor of Psychology in the department of Vedic Science. He has just three publications to his name. While the university doesn’t appear to be a diploma mill as such, it’s not highly ranked, and specialises in consciousness-based education and transcendental meditation.

Pete Evans is an Australian Chef and TV celebrity and has had a bad relationship with vaccines, and was even fined $80,000 by the Australian Health Department for promoting unlawful devices and medicines. 

Neither of these people should be trusted for their medical opinions and advice!

While it’s sad that Shane Warne has died, he did suffer from Covid last year and was on a ventilator. It’s certainly plausible that his Covid infection could have had an effect on his heart which led to an early end. Again, I’m not a doctor!

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Chaplaincy for the non-religious

Contributed by Colin Woodhouse

The population of New Zealand is changing – and not just because there are more of us, including many new immigrants, or because people are living longer. The other great change is that fewer people are religious and New Zealand is increasingly secular.

Nurses recognise the importance of holistic care, part of which is religious, spiritual or pastoral support, but are we delivering this properly? As a nurse and humanist, I firmly believe we’re not.

The 2013 census showed 42 per cent of the population were not religious.1 The data also showed the proportion of Christians had decreased. The religious groups that had increased were Sikh, Muslim and Hindu, reflecting the immigration of people from Asia. Independent research done last year by the faith-based Wilberforce Foundation showed the non-religious proportion of the population had increased to 55 per cent.2 The 2018 census data isn’t available yet.

Hospital chaplaincy is the responsibility of the Interchurch Council for Hospital Chaplaincy (ICHC). ICHC has held a contract with the Ministry of Health to provide chaplaincy services to district health boards since 1993. The council comprises representatives from nine Christian churches. It can hardly be argued that this fairly recognises the differing beliefs of the religious population, never mind the spiritual feelings of the non-religious.

Chaplains are usually ordained Christians, who have undergone additional training to work as chaplains. They provide support for people of all religions or no religion. Working alongside the salaried chaplains are volunteer lay people. These volunteers, too, have been trained to speak with believers and nonbelievers. All hospital chaplaincy services have contact lists of people available to talk with those from specific Christian denominations, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons. There will also be contacts for other religions, such as Islam or Judaism. So why isn’t there one for the non-religious?

The chaplains and their co-working volunteers are trained to speak with people of no religion. I have no doubt many of these people have done so, and it has been of help to the patients involved. However, there is no service offered for those who are not religious and do not want to talk with a religious person about their spiritual needs, feelings or goals. An example of this is a homosexual man who feels that, throughout his adult life, the church has condemned and opposed him.3 There is no expectation that people who are Hindu, Buddhist or Baha’i should talk with a Christian chaplain. Similarly, there should be no expectation that the non-religious should only speak with a religious person at a time of need.

UK survey results

A recent survey by Humanists UK showed 62 per cent of the religious people who took part were in favour of non-religious pastoral support workers.4 The survey also showed that non-religious people felt far more likely to access pastoral and spiritual services if non-religious support workers were available.4 I intend repeating this survey in New Zealand.

The Netherlands has had non-religious pastoral support available in hospitals, universities, prisons and the armed forces since the late 1950s. About 70 percent of Dutch people are not religious. The hospital chaplains are non-religious and offer pastoral and spiritual support to everyone. If a patient is religious, the appropriate religious person will be asked to come in to address the patient’s needs.

The United Kingdom now has three salaried non-religious pastoral care providers. Somewhat surprisingly, one of them is the chaplaincy and pastoral care service manager for a National Health Service hospital trust. Less surprisingly, she is from the Netherlands and has given me a great deal of information over the last nine months.5 In addition to the three paid staff, there are several hundred volunteer support workers.

New Zealand is changing in many ways and pastoral support provided to patients needs to change too. The system, as it stands, may be seen to be unconsciously discriminatory. I believe the failure to provide non-religious pastoral or spiritual support for non-religious people is a breach of the Human Rights Act 1993 Section 21(d). This failure also breaches the Health and Disability Commissioner’s code of rights 1(3).

When an increasing number of people are not religious, “hospitals can’t simply neglect them by providing religious chaplaincy and nothing else”. (Humanists UK 2019).

Colin Woodhouse, RN, PGDipHSci, works on a neurosciences ward at Christchurch Hospital. He aims to write a thesis on this subject for a master’s in health sciences.

References

Humanists UK 2017 https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Humanists-UK-polling-on-pastoral-care-in-the-UK.pdf

Humanists UK 2019 https://humanism.org.uk/2019/03/19/the-art-of-listening-an-interview-with-humanist-pastoral-carer-lindsay-van-dijk/

Savage, D. (2019). Non-religious pastoral care: A practical guide. London. Routledge.

Stats NZ (2014) http://archive.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census.aspx

Wilberforce Foundation (2018) https://faithandbeliefstudynz.org/


If you have any news or thoughts you would like to see published in this newsletter, we would love to hear from you at:
[email protected]

If you want to support us by becoming a financial member, or would like to check your membership status, please go to:
https://skeptics.nz/join


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Skeptic News: Protest finale, Investigative journalism? RIP Shane Warne and more.


96

Skeptic News: Protest finale, Investigative journalism? RIP Shane Warne and more.

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NZ Skeptics Newsletter


We have a bumper issue of the newsletter this week, with contributions from quite a few people. And what a week it’s been! The main event of the week, here in our country, has been the end of the protest at Parliament in Wellington. It came to a fairly quick end once the police moved in. In a previous newsletter, I’d expressed concern at how much leeway the police were giving protestors. I think, with the actions of last week, it was becoming clear that the protestors needed to be moved on. 

It’s been interesting to monitor the social media accounts of those behind the protests and see how much they’re rationalising things (at least in my opinion). They’re clearly “smarting” from the perceived loss – especially in that they didn’t achieve their goal of ending mandates and having the government meet with them directly.

Of course, the world is focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I’ve nothing specific to say about that in this newsletter apart from acknowledging the situation. It’s certainly likely that misinformation and propaganda will play a part, and has already done so with Putin’s announcements.

There’s plenty to talk about, so let’s dig in.

Craig Shearer

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Protest finale

Last Wednesday, the “anti-mandate” protest at the Parliament Grounds in Wellington, which had lasted for 23 days, came to an end. It was not an end that the protestors wanted, but was forced on them by police action. 

Over the past few weeks, Mark and I have written about the protest. It initially started out as something of a curiosity, and Mark visited it in person. Over time, it appears to have become increasingly dangerous, with many protestors displaying increasing hostility toward those not agreeing with their cause(s).

Despite protestations to the contrary; that the protest was peaceful; that all they wanted was dialogue with the government about ending mandates, there were numerous examples, caught on social media video posts, where less-than-peaceful behaviour was on display.

And the protest was never just about ending vaccine mandates. The protestors covered a vast array of topics including those that wanted an end to the government, including executions of politicians and media. Most protestors were firmly anti-vaccine. All, it would seem, were in the grips of rampant mis- and dis-information.

There were undoubtedly some highly organised groups behind the event. I’ve written many times about Voices for Freedom, and Mark has covered other groups such as Counterspin Media and their people. Voices for Freedom, identified by their distinctive colouring of their signs and t-shirts, were on full display. 

With the arrival of the Omicron variant of Covid on our shores and a lot of community transmission, it became clear that the protest would be a super-spreader event. Protestors were invariably maskless, and,being  camped on site, living in close quarters for extended periods.

Amusingly, symptoms of Covid were blamed on EMF weapons, and we saw images of protestors wearing tinfoil hats, in a misguided attempt to reduce their susceptibility to EMF radiation. It does seem clear that a large number of people at the protest now have Covid, though most are resistant to testing so it’s unlikely we’ll know the full extent of the infection.

On the day that it all ended it was all shown on video – with various prolific “alternative media” channels covering things in great detail. I spent a bit of time watching it all unfold on Chantelle Baker’s livestream on Facebook. 

We’ve covered Chantelle Baker before, but briefly she’s the daughter of ex-New Conservative Party leader Leighton Baker. (Baker senior was also at the protests, and got arrested, and, as a bonus, has tested positive for Covid.) Her livestream commentary on the day was quite enlightening. There were moments where she witnessed less than savoury behaviour, and called it out. There were also times where she suggested that the “bad actors” were actually Antifa people rather than genuine protestors. I guess that’s a good example of cognitive dissonance and the No True Scotsman fallacy at work

Image from Braden Fastier/Stuff

The police ended up using pepper spray on protestors. Amusingly, we saw images of people treating the pepper spray by pouring milk into their eyes – a clear misunderstanding of just how that works – water would work better, whereas milk, not being sterile, could possibly lead to an infection especially after the eyes have been aggravated by the pepper spray. It would seem that people thought that when you have hot food, milk is good for that. The way that works is that the fat in the milk forms a protective layer on the tongue to insulate the taste buds from the chemicals causing the hot sensation. That’s not going to work on your eyes.

Towards the end of the day things devolved into tents being set alight, and there was certainly the danger of the fire spreading uncontrollably (with all that hay on the ground), with consequent danger to protestors and police. Chantelle Baker claimed, or at least gave air to comments that suggested that the police started the fires – by knocking over a generator in a tent. Later analysis of video from the day showed that the police were about 5 metres away from the tent when the fire started. More details about the fire here

I personally witnessed, on Baker’s livestream, instances of protestors throwing items into the fire in an effort to make it bigger – items including gas bottles! And I also saw a person actively transferring fire from one tent to another.

Near the end, protestors were seen digging up paving stones to throw at police. 

The videos taken on the day will make useful viewing for the police in identifying people who actually performed criminal acts (over and above the act of trespassing on the grounds). It would seem that some livestream videos are being removed from social media, in an attempt to hide the evidence, but I’m reliably informed that it’s already been saved elsewhere.

There are clear parallels with the January 6th attack on the US Capitol, and it seems that at least some of the protestors were hoping that an actual storming of parliament would take place. We can only hope that police here take swifter action to hold the criminal elements and organisers to account than appears to be happening in the US.

There’s clearly a misinformation epidemic in the world, and we’re not isolated from it here in Aotearoa/New Zealand. While the protest has now been shut down, I don’t expect that the underlying causes will go away anytime soon.

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Investigative journalism?

Speaking of Voices for Freedom, last weekend investigative journalist Melanie Reid from Newsroom did a video piece on the protest – Visit to Freedom Village – which featured the Voices for Freedom leaders in a very positive light.

Melanie Reid is no stranger to controversy. Back in 2017 she did an investigation into the debunked anti-vax film Vaxxed, portraying it in a positive light. 

And way back in 2004, NZ Skeptics awarded Melanie Reid our Bent Spoon award for her coverage of claimed psychic medium Jeanette Wilson. At the time, Reid was on TV3’s 20/20 programme, and Wilson had a series called Dare to Believe. Reid’s investigation on the 20/20 documentary programme of Wilson’s purported psychic powers came to the conclusion that she was genuine!

Back to the video from last week, Reid portrayed the three Voices for Freedom women as just concerned mums, and asked no critical questions.

Reid should have probed their anti-vaccination stance, and questioned whether they were vaccinated. She should have asked why they claim the protest is all about ending mandates when all of their communications heavily promote anti-vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories.

She should have also asked them more about their funding sources. While she asked the question, she allowed Claire Deeks to waffle on about how their funding was largely from individuals in small amounts.

In reality, Voices for Freedom, while claiming to be a not for profit organisation, is a limited liability company with the three women as directors. Their own FAQ page on their website claims they will make information about their finances public:

“Like any well run organisation receiving funding we intend to provide basic information on finances such as to provide accountability and transparency at appropriate junctures and at least annually.”

To date, after being in existence for over two years, they have not done so. Voices for Freedom is a large misinformation organisation – spending large sums of money convincing people not to be vaccinated, and spreading conspiracy theories.

Today, Radio New Zealand did a piece which criticised Reid’s Newsroom video which makes very interesting reading and listening

In the accompanying podcast, a person (who remains anonymous) tells the story of how he was concerned about the lack of vetting of vaccine injury stories. He decided to submit some made up stories of his own to an anti-vax website and was then contacted by Melanie Reid to do an interview on vaccine injury. It would appear that Reid sits firmly in the anti-vax camp herself.

Committee member, Jonathon Harper has these comments:

So what is a skeptic to make of all this?

  1. previous serious credulity and gullibility may be a predictor of  future behaviour
  2. the conspirators are partly right in that mainstream media cannot always be trusted
  3. nevertheless, VFF seized upon Reid’s reporting apparently claiming it is reliable
  4. maybe Ardern and other politicians were correct in refusing to talk with VFF etc (there may have been a slight benefit by reducing paranoia, but I think not enough)

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Freedoms

Just what are freedoms that the protest groups are saying are being trampled on and restricted? Two senior lecturers in Psychology at the University of Canterbury wrote a good piece on The Conversation, defining what is meant by freedom – the concepts of negative and positive liberty.

At the heart of this lies the distinction between a narrow conception of freedom known as “negative liberty” and the wider concept of “positive liberty”. The former, seemingly preferred by the protesters, implies a freedom from imposed restrictions on people’s behaviour – such as lockdowns and vaccine passes or mandates.

The counter-argument is that reasonable restrictions, if justified to prevent significant harm from COVID-19, actually increase overall freedom. In that sense, the freedom to behave in certain ways becomes a “positive liberty”.

It’s a good read, and nicely lays out how negative liberties and positive liberties interact.

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Liz Gunn

I’ve written about Liz Gunn before. She used to be a respected broadcaster on TVNZ’s One News, but has now gone well down the rabbit hole. Last year she claimed that an earthquake was Mother Nature’s response to Jacinda Adern’s Covid-19 response . She announced her FreeNZ movement, which appears to have political aspirations. 

She was present at the protests, and has now appeared on the disinformation outlet Counterspin Media. 

There’s a clip of parts of her interview here, claiming that she got sick at the protest from stuff that the government put on the crowd that affected people’s immune systems. She’s clearly sick from Covid (ok, that’s the most likely explanation – maybe she’s got a bad cold – I’m not a doctor!)

You can watch the video on YouTube

She even questions the legitimacy of Jacinda Adern’s prime ministership, claiming that that will be examined one day, when the people take back power.

The interview had to end when she complained of her temperature spiking and having trouble breathing. 

Hopefully she pulls through her Covid infection successfully. Will she infect others? Will this make her realise that Covid is real? Will we see more of her in the future?

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RIP Shane Warne

We don’t often cover sports stories in our newsletter, and I’m certainly not one for writing them, but yesterday we heard the news of the untimely death of Shane Warne, the Australian Cricketer. Warne was only 52 and died of a heart attack.

It didn’t take long, but the anti-vax crowd have come out and blamed the Covid vaccine for Warne’s death.

Of note are Dr Guy Hatchard – who’s been featured by Voices for Freedom, and Free NZ (Liz Gunn’s outfit) – and Pete Evans.

Interestingly Dr Guy Hatchard has a Ph.D, a fact touted by those promoting him. If you dig deeper though, his Ph.D is from Maharishi International University  in Iowa in the US. His doctorate is listed as a Doctor of Psychology in the department of Vedic Science. He has just three publications to his name. While the university doesn’t appear to be a diploma mill as such, it’s not highly ranked, and specialises in consciousness-based education and transcendental meditation.

Pete Evans is an Australian Chef and TV celebrity and has had a bad relationship with vaccines, and was even fined $80,000 by the Australian Health Department for promoting unlawful devices and medicines. 

Neither of these people should be trusted for their medical opinions and advice!

While it’s sad that Shane Warne has died, he did suffer from Covid last year and was on a ventilator. It’s certainly plausible that his Covid infection could have had an effect on his heart which led to an early end. Again, I’m not a doctor!

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Chaplaincy for the non-religious

Contributed by Colin Woodhouse

The population of New Zealand is changing – and not just because there are more of us, including many new immigrants, or because people are living longer. The other great change is that fewer people are religious and New Zealand is increasingly secular.

Nurses recognise the importance of holistic care, part of which is religious, spiritual or pastoral support, but are we delivering this properly? As a nurse and humanist, I firmly believe we’re not.

The 2013 census showed 42 per cent of the population were not religious.1 The data also showed the proportion of Christians had decreased. The religious groups that had increased were Sikh, Muslim and Hindu, reflecting the immigration of people from Asia. Independent research done last year by the faith-based Wilberforce Foundation showed the non-religious proportion of the population had increased to 55 per cent.2 The 2018 census data isn’t available yet.

Hospital chaplaincy is the responsibility of the Interchurch Council for Hospital Chaplaincy (ICHC). ICHC has held a contract with the Ministry of Health to provide chaplaincy services to district health boards since 1993. The council comprises representatives from nine Christian churches. It can hardly be argued that this fairly recognises the differing beliefs of the religious population, never mind the spiritual feelings of the non-religious.

Chaplains are usually ordained Christians, who have undergone additional training to work as chaplains. They provide support for people of all religions or no religion. Working alongside the salaried chaplains are volunteer lay people. These volunteers, too, have been trained to speak with believers and nonbelievers. All hospital chaplaincy services have contact lists of people available to talk with those from specific Christian denominations, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons. There will also be contacts for other religions, such as Islam or Judaism. So why isn’t there one for the non-religious?

The chaplains and their co-working volunteers are trained to speak with people of no religion. I have no doubt many of these people have done so, and it has been of help to the patients involved. However, there is no service offered for those who are not religious and do not want to talk with a religious person about their spiritual needs, feelings or goals. An example of this is a homosexual man who feels that, throughout his adult life, the church has condemned and opposed him.3 There is no expectation that people who are Hindu, Buddhist or Baha’i should talk with a Christian chaplain. Similarly, there should be no expectation that the non-religious should only speak with a religious person at a time of need.

UK survey results

A recent survey by Humanists UK showed 62 per cent of the religious people who took part were in favour of non-religious pastoral support workers.4 The survey also showed that non-religious people felt far more likely to access pastoral and spiritual services if non-religious support workers were available.4 I intend repeating this survey in New Zealand.

The Netherlands has had non-religious pastoral support available in hospitals, universities, prisons and the armed forces since the late 1950s. About 70 percent of Dutch people are not religious. The hospital chaplains are non-religious and offer pastoral and spiritual support to everyone. If a patient is religious, the appropriate religious person will be asked to come in to address the patient’s needs.

The United Kingdom now has three salaried non-religious pastoral care providers. Somewhat surprisingly, one of them is the chaplaincy and pastoral care service manager for a National Health Service hospital trust. Less surprisingly, she is from the Netherlands and has given me a great deal of information over the last nine months.5 In addition to the three paid staff, there are several hundred volunteer support workers.

New Zealand is changing in many ways and pastoral support provided to patients needs to change too. The system, as it stands, may be seen to be unconsciously discriminatory. I believe the failure to provide non-religious pastoral or spiritual support for non-religious people is a breach of the Human Rights Act 1993 Section 21(d). This failure also breaches the Health and Disability Commissioner’s code of rights 1(3).

When an increasing number of people are not religious, “hospitals can’t simply neglect them by providing religious chaplaincy and nothing else”. (Humanists UK 2019).

Colin Woodhouse, RN, PGDipHSci, works on a neurosciences ward at Christchurch Hospital. He aims to write a thesis on this subject for a master’s in health sciences.

References

Humanists UK 2017 https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Humanists-UK-polling-on-pastoral-care-in-the-UK.pdf

Humanists UK 2019 https://humanism.org.uk/2019/03/19/the-art-of-listening-an-interview-with-humanist-pastoral-carer-lindsay-van-dijk/

Savage, D. (2019). Non-religious pastoral care: A practical guide. London. Routledge.

Stats NZ (2014) http://archive.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census.aspx

Wilberforce Foundation (2018) https://faithandbeliefstudynz.org/


If you have any news or thoughts you would like to see published in this newsletter, we would love to hear from you at:
[email protected]

If you want to support us by becoming a financial member, or would like to check your membership status, please go to:
https://skeptics.nz/join


Website

Email

Facebook

Twitter

YouTube

Spotify

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Skeptic News: Happy Valentine’s Day. Yeah… Nah!


96

Skeptic News: Happy Valentine’s Day. Yeah… Nah!

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


 

Happy Valentine’s Day. Yeah… Nah!


I hope everyone is having a great Valentine’s day, and that none of you are stuck in a muddy field somewhere dealing with sanitation issues 😉

Before we get into our stories for this week, I’m happy to let you all know that Craig, Bronwyn and I have managed to record and release the first episode of our new podcast, which we’ve decided to call “Yeah… Nah!”. The podcast will be biweekly, and we’ll be mostly be covering the items we write about in our newsletter. The website for the podcast is podcast.skeptics.nz, although you’ll probably find the easiest way to listen is just to open the podcast app on your phone and search for “Yeah Nah” – our podcast is listed in most of the major apps (including Apple, Google, PodChaser, Stitcher, iHeartRadio and even Spotify!), although if we’ve missed any please let us know.

It was a lot of fun recording the first episode, and we’re looking forward to using the podcast as a way to let more people access local skeptical news. For those who take the time to read our weekly newsletter, you might want to give the podcast a go as well – we won’t just be reading out our news stories from here, but instead we’ll be chatting about our stories, sometimes going into more depth, sometimes going on tangents, and occasionally straying into new stories that haven’t been featured here.

Anyway, let’s get on with the newsletter and find out how those soggy protesters are doing.

Mark Honeychurch



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Convoy 2022

I’m sure everyone is aware of the convoy that headed to Wellington on Tuesday. This collection of cars, campervans and the occasional truck has descended on our capital, supposedly as a protest against the vaccine mandates that our government has put into place over the last few months. On my way into work in Wellington on Tuesday I hit the motorway a little before the first of the groups of vehicles did, and was greeted with the depressing sight of a hundred or more supporters on the bridges between Porirua and Wellington, many of them holding signs created by Voices for Freedom.
 

On Tuesday afternoon I headed to parliament during my lunch break, and spent an hour or so in the crowd, both listening to the speeches given by faces that would be familiar to skeptics (Dr Emanuel Garcia, Dr Matt Shelton, etc), and checking out some of the signs the crowd were waving and the conversations people were having. The crowd were friendly, and apart from some weird stares (and one man with a microphone who chose to challenge me – which led to a fun conversation for a few minutes), nobody seemed unhappy that I was about the only one there wearing a mask.

However it was apparent that many in the crowd were unhappy with the amount of religious content the Destiny church staff were trying to push on everyone. Brian Tamaki was mentioned more than once, as a champion of freedom, and a speech about the life of Jesus seemed to be particularly badly received by those around me. The crowd were also unhappy with Destiny staff telling them that they would need to move their cars and be gone by 5pm, to allow commuters to get home.
 


 

Just before I left, I bumped into an old friend. I’ve seen her posting medical misinformation about the pandemic on Facebook recently, so I wasn’t surprised to see her at the protest. But it was still a little awkward trying to have a pleasant conversation when we’re worlds apart, and it was pretty obvious that I was not there to protest.

When I left Wellington on Tuesday evening, I made sure to drive past Parliament to see how many people had heeded this advice – and, unsurprisingly, it seemed that not many people had packed up and left. In fact, people had started pitching tents on the parliament lawn, and a camp kitchen had been erected on Molesworth Street.

I said supposedly when it comes to the reason for the protest, as it seems that as Destiny church faded into the background, there were no clear organisers – just a collection of groups and individuals each there for their own reasons. This is apparently making it hard for the NZ Police to deal with the crowd and negotiate with them. It’s also scary that the protest includes some scary, angry groups such as the National Front and the conspiracy programme Counterspin – the kinds of people who often talk about violent overthrow of the government.

Thursday’s stand-off with the Police was interesting watching, from afar via a web browser. It pains me to say it, but I found the up close and personal live streams from people like Chantelle Baker to be much more engaging and useful than the telephoto streams from the press up on a balcony of Parliament. That being said, with the amount of “corrupt media” rhetoric being thrown around, I don’t blame real journalists for choosing to film from a safe distance.

One piece of news that surprised me, and not necessarily in a bad way, was that infamous psychic Jeanette Wilson was one of the 120 or so people taken away by the Police. I’ve since watched her last live stream before she was nabbed, and in it she was berating the Police for working for the government, as it’s a “corporation” and not a legitimate authority. She repeatedly told the Police in the line in front of her that they needed to “bend the knee” to God.

One of our panel speakers from last year’s Skeptics Conference, Sanjana Hattotuwa, was interviewed by Marc Daalder for a great piece on this extremist, conspiratorial element at the protest. It makes for sober reading.

On Friday evening I was in Wellington again, this time for our regular Skeptics in the Pub meeting. After our meeting, at about 10pm, two of us decided to visit parliament again. That afternoon the speaker of the house, Trevor Mallard, had ordered the sprinklers to be turned on, and the crowd had come up with some inventive ways to redirect the water, using lengths of pipe, traffic cones and trench digging. By the evening the sprinklers had been joined by bouts of rain, which have since become a cyclone. My visit was brief, but I managed to get a picture of the protesters’ makeshift sprinkler solution.
 

Watching the live streams this weekend, and reading online, it seems that the conspiracy theories are starting to come out. I’ve heard that all of the violent or abusive protesters are actually Police plants, agitators who are being used to give the Police a pretext for trying to shut down the protest. And I’ve read that the bad weather we’ve had this weekend is a result of the government using its ability to control the weather. If you’ve heard of other weird conspiracies related to the protest, please let me know!

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NZDSOS Stars

The other day I noticed that the medical misinformation site NZDSOS – where a few anti-vaccine doctors promote their “alternative” COVID ideas – had changed its look. This is an issue for me, as a few months ago I created a spoof site called NZD-SOS which I made to look like the original site. My site pointed out that there are more doctors called Sarah, Michael or Kate, for example, that have signed an open letter in support of COVID vaccination, than there are doctors who have signed the NZDSOS open letter warning against vaccination.

The original site has changed its look several times now, and each time I dutifully change my parody site to look the same. So, to this end, yesterday I started to update my site’s HTML and CSS to match this new facelift. While I was working on this, I clicked on one of the articles on the NZDSOS site and noticed that at the bottom it had a voting system where you could give the article between 1 and 5 stars. Interesting, I thought, and then I gave the page a one star review – bringing it’s overall score down from 4.4 to 4.3.

I then tried to give the page a second vote, just to see what would happen – nope, there was a system in place to ensure you could only vote once. Hmmmm, I wondered, what if I opened the article in an Incognito window? Could I vote again? Yes, I could! Once I’d voted a second time, both of my votes showed up and the page was now at a rating of 4.2. If I wanted to vote again I would need to close the Incognito window and open a new one, which seemed like a tiresome task.

Now, I’m an upstanding citizen and so I let this be and didn’t take things any further. But, if I was more of a skeptical activist, and if I happened to have a background in developing software, what could I have done with this information? Well, maybe I would have started by using the Chrome Inspector to view the request made to the web server whenever a vote is cast. I’d imagine that might have looked something like this:

And maybe I’d have noticed that the only protection against someone voting multiple times was a nonce, a 10 character hexadecimal string that the site uses to fingerprint you, and check whether you’ve voted already. The kind of string that might be randomly generated with a Javascript function like:

function nonce() {
    return […Array(10)].map(() => Math.floor(Math.random() * 16).toString(16)).join(”);
}

I guess if I wanted to write a script that would downvote all of the posts on the site, I would first need a list of post IDs. And given that the NZDSOS website appears to be a Wordpress site, I’d probably look to using the Wordpress API to request as many posts as possible, and then keep asking for pages until there were no more posts left. If I’d read the documentation properly, I’d imagine the URL for the first page would probably look a little like this:

https://nzdsos.com//wp-json/wp/v2/posts/?per_page=100&page=1

Of course, if I was trying to be shrewd about it, I’d probably want to randomise things a little and not just cycle through the list of posts, hammering the website with thousands of one star votes for each one. If I gave each post a set of totally random scores between 1 and 5 it would only bring the average score down to around 3, but maybe a weighted average, heavy at the one star end, would work well. Possibly from something like this formula:

min + round((max – min) / ((<random number between 0 and 1> * (max – min)) + 1)) – 1

I could then use this to not only randomise the vote score a little, but also randomise the time between casting votes. I’d do this not only because it’s important to limit the rate at which you access an API so that you don’t overload it or get blocked, but also so that your votes look organic – like they’re coming from more than one person.

I’d also want to pick a random article each time, rather than running through the same list sequentially. And I’d probably then tell my script to print out its progress, so that I could see it working. Here’s a mock-up of what I imagine that output might look like:

Finally, once a script like this had been running for a little while, I’d expect to see the voting pattern for an article start to show a weighting towards 1 star votes, with a few votes with more than one star. And, of course, any article that’s already received a set of 5 star votes from people would also still have those votes as well.

As I said, this is all theoretical, but I reckon that given an hour or two I could probably throw all of that together into a small script, probably around 150 lines of code – a script that might end up looking a bit like this:

And, who knows, if someone ends up doing something like this and leaving the script to run over the course of several days, and if the site administrators aren’t paying attention and/or have no way of recording and blocking IP addresses, maybe we’d slowly see the score for each and every article on this misinformation site receiving the one star ratings they so obviously deserve.

<!–


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The Brothers Bogdanoff and the Jadczyks

It’s funny how things come around. Last week I watched a fascinating documentary on the Bogdanoff brothers. For those not in the know, the Bogdanoffs are a fascinating case study – two brothers who became celebrities via a TV show promoting science, and then somehow bluffed their way into receiving PhDs in physics despite their theses being nonsensical in places. Many of you might recognise the brothers from their later years, where they used extreme plastic surgery to radically alter their look.
 

I highly recommend that you take some time to read up on these brothers, including about their recent deaths in the middle of our current pandemic – I bet you can guess what their stance on the COVID vaccine was!

At one point the documentary I was watching mentioned that someone who helped the brothers to create a fake university, which was part of their effort to use “sock puppet” accounts online to defend their reputations, was called Arcadiusz Jadczyk. Huh, I thought… I recognise that name. Now bear with me while we go on a short skeptical detour…

Many years ago, when I worked at a bank, I had a colleague who was into all sorts of conspiracy theories. As a fairly new skeptic, I had tried to engage him and his claims. For example, he told me he had built an over-unity device – a perpetual motion machine. I asked him to bring it in for me to see it working, and, sure enough, a few weeks later he brought in a converted magnetic hard drive with the cover taken off, and nails and coils of wire attached to it. When I asked if I could see it working, I was told that it only works when there’s a battery attached. 

Now, you might think this is a weird thing for an over-unity device to require. For one, your skeptical brain is probably screaming that the battery is going to provide power to the device, and it’s not an over-unity device if it needs a power input. And two you’re going to be thinking that this is the daftest thing ever. But, it may surprise you to know that many supposed physics-defying devices like this need a battery to work. For the builders of these devices, their usual claim is that a battery is needed to “smooth” the current coming from the energy generating part of the device, so that it can be fed back into the device to keep it working. The proof of over-unity is given via measurements made with multimeters and a little maths.

Those in the know understand that this is where the trickery happens. Most multimeters have some quirks that mean that they aren’t great at showing average voltages/currents, especially for the kinds of fluctuating electrical flows created by generators and alternators. If a meter over-estimates an average reading, the resulting power calculations will give a higher value than the amount of power actually being generated. And, as I’m sure you already suspected, the battery in these devices is the power source that actually keeps the machine running, not the power fed back into the system. And, of course, nobody with one of these devices keeps it running for days on end, as it’ll eventually run out of power and come to a stop.

Other ideas I heard from this colleague included that drinking bleach will unlock the surface of bad bacteria and kill them, using a “key” of five electrons. I also heard that earth’s twin, planet Nibiru, was going to usher in the age of Aquarius, a new age of global stability, peace, prosperity and new technology, and that 9/11 was a controlled demolition. And I was told that there’s a secret cabal of psychopaths who run every major company in the world. For these last two ideas, I was given books to read – and the book about psychopaths was written by none other than Ark Jadczyk. Finally, we’re back to the Bogdanoffs and their partner in crime.

After reading Jadczyk’s book about psychopaths, many years ago, I did some background reading on him. It turns out he’s married to a fascinating woman called Laura Knight-Jadczyk. The more I read about her, the weirder things became. She has been involved in spreading so, so many weird and wonderful conspiracy ideas, around Nibiru, free energy, 9/11, the New World Order, weather modification and much, much more. It was obvious from this that my work colleague was consuming all of this drivel and swallowing it hook, line and sinker.

So how did Laura receive all of her information about these conspiracies? Did she have an insider leaking information to her? Nope – she used to run regular seances at her house, where she used a Ouija board to communicate telepathically with an alien race called the Cassiopaeians. These aliens would relay the information to her through the Ouija board. I read a great description of how this used to happen: Laura sitting at a table in front of the Ouija board, with a glass of whisky and a cigarette in one hand, and the planchette in the other. The planchette would move around the board so rapidly that she would have several of her male followers standing over her with notepads and pens, furiously trying to note down the sequence of letters as they were pointed out. And then this information was posted to an internet forum, which is where my colleague was reading it uncritically.

It was frustrating at the time that no amount of evidence I could give to the contrary would convince my colleague that the things he was reading from a woman in the US channelling aliens were nonsense. I’ve occasionally wondered how his life has been since I worked with him – believing in so many paranoid ideas must be tiring. I’ve just searched for his name, and although I can’t find him on LinkedIn, when searching his name in Google the only result that looks likely to be him is an obituary from two years ago. So maybe he’s no longer with us, which is sad.

Speaking of Ouija boards, a good friend made one for me recently! It’s taken pride of place in my collection of skeptical oddities, which include reflexology socks, an electroacupuncture device, divining rods, placebo pills, and a can of Yeti Meat. Maybe I’ll see if I can contact the Cassiopaeians and finally find out the truth about Area 51.
 


If you have any news or thoughts you would like to see published in this newsletter, we would love to hear from you at:
[email protected]

if you want to support us by becoming a financial member, or would like to check your membership status, please go to:
https://skeptics.nz/join


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Skeptic News: Happy Valentine’s Day. Yeah… Nah!


96

Skeptic News: Happy Valentine’s Day. Yeah… Nah!

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


 

Happy Valentine’s Day. Yeah… Nah!


I hope everyone is having a great Valentine’s day, and that none of you are stuck in a muddy field somewhere dealing with sanitation issues 😉

Before we get into our stories for this week, I’m happy to let you all know that Craig, Bronwyn and I have managed to record and release the first episode of our new podcast, which we’ve decided to call “Yeah… Nah!”. The podcast will be biweekly, and we’ll be mostly be covering the items we write about in our newsletter. The website for the podcast is podcast.skeptics.nz, although you’ll probably find the easiest way to listen is just to open the podcast app on your phone and search for “Yeah Nah” – our podcast is listed in most of the major apps (including Apple, Google, PodChaser, Stitcher, iHeartRadio and even Spotify!), although if we’ve missed any please let us know.

It was a lot of fun recording the first episode, and we’re looking forward to using the podcast as a way to let more people access local skeptical news. For those who take the time to read our weekly newsletter, you might want to give the podcast a go as well – we won’t just be reading out our news stories from here, but instead we’ll be chatting about our stories, sometimes going into more depth, sometimes going on tangents, and occasionally straying into new stories that haven’t been featured here.

Anyway, let’s get on with the newsletter and find out how those soggy protesters are doing.

Mark Honeychurch



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Convoy 2022

I’m sure everyone is aware of the convoy that headed to Wellington on Tuesday. This collection of cars, campervans and the occasional truck has descended on our capital, supposedly as a protest against the vaccine mandates that our government has put into place over the last few months. On my way into work in Wellington on Tuesday I hit the motorway a little before the first of the groups of vehicles did, and was greeted with the depressing sight of a hundred or more supporters on the bridges between Porirua and Wellington, many of them holding signs created by Voices for Freedom.
 

On Tuesday afternoon I headed to parliament during my lunch break, and spent an hour or so in the crowd, both listening to the speeches given by faces that would be familiar to skeptics (Dr Emanuel Garcia, Dr Matt Shelton, etc), and checking out some of the signs the crowd were waving and the conversations people were having. The crowd were friendly, and apart from some weird stares (and one man with a microphone who chose to challenge me – which led to a fun conversation for a few minutes), nobody seemed unhappy that I was about the only one there wearing a mask.

However it was apparent that many in the crowd were unhappy with the amount of religious content the Destiny church staff were trying to push on everyone. Brian Tamaki was mentioned more than once, as a champion of freedom, and a speech about the life of Jesus seemed to be particularly badly received by those around me. The crowd were also unhappy with Destiny staff telling them that they would need to move their cars and be gone by 5pm, to allow commuters to get home.
 


 

Just before I left, I bumped into an old friend. I’ve seen her posting medical misinformation about the pandemic on Facebook recently, so I wasn’t surprised to see her at the protest. But it was still a little awkward trying to have a pleasant conversation when we’re worlds apart, and it was pretty obvious that I was not there to protest.

When I left Wellington on Tuesday evening, I made sure to drive past Parliament to see how many people had heeded this advice – and, unsurprisingly, it seemed that not many people had packed up and left. In fact, people had started pitching tents on the parliament lawn, and a camp kitchen had been erected on Molesworth Street.

I said supposedly when it comes to the reason for the protest, as it seems that as Destiny church faded into the background, there were no clear organisers – just a collection of groups and individuals each there for their own reasons. This is apparently making it hard for the NZ Police to deal with the crowd and negotiate with them. It’s also scary that the protest includes some scary, angry groups such as the National Front and the conspiracy programme Counterspin – the kinds of people who often talk about violent overthrow of the government.

Thursday’s stand-off with the Police was interesting watching, from afar via a web browser. It pains me to say it, but I found the up close and personal live streams from people like Chantelle Baker to be much more engaging and useful than the telephoto streams from the press up on a balcony of Parliament. That being said, with the amount of “corrupt media” rhetoric being thrown around, I don’t blame real journalists for choosing to film from a safe distance.

One piece of news that surprised me, and not necessarily in a bad way, was that infamous psychic Jeanette Wilson was one of the 120 or so people taken away by the Police. I’ve since watched her last live stream before she was nabbed, and in it she was berating the Police for working for the government, as it’s a “corporation” and not a legitimate authority. She repeatedly told the Police in the line in front of her that they needed to “bend the knee” to God.

One of our panel speakers from last year’s Skeptics Conference, Sanjana Hattotuwa, was interviewed by Marc Daalder for a great piece on this extremist, conspiratorial element at the protest. It makes for sober reading.

On Friday evening I was in Wellington again, this time for our regular Skeptics in the Pub meeting. After our meeting, at about 10pm, two of us decided to visit parliament again. That afternoon the speaker of the house, Trevor Mallard, had ordered the sprinklers to be turned on, and the crowd had come up with some inventive ways to redirect the water, using lengths of pipe, traffic cones and trench digging. By the evening the sprinklers had been joined by bouts of rain, which have since become a cyclone. My visit was brief, but I managed to get a picture of the protesters’ makeshift sprinkler solution.
 

Watching the live streams this weekend, and reading online, it seems that the conspiracy theories are starting to come out. I’ve heard that all of the violent or abusive protesters are actually Police plants, agitators who are being used to give the Police a pretext for trying to shut down the protest. And I’ve read that the bad weather we’ve had this weekend is a result of the government using its ability to control the weather. If you’ve heard of other weird conspiracies related to the protest, please let me know!

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NZDSOS Stars

The other day I noticed that the medical misinformation site NZDSOS – where a few anti-vaccine doctors promote their “alternative” COVID ideas – had changed its look. This is an issue for me, as a few months ago I created a spoof site called NZD-SOS which I made to look like the original site. My site pointed out that there are more doctors called Sarah, Michael or Kate, for example, that have signed an open letter in support of COVID vaccination, than there are doctors who have signed the NZDSOS open letter warning against vaccination.

The original site has changed its look several times now, and each time I dutifully change my parody site to look the same. So, to this end, yesterday I started to update my site’s HTML and CSS to match this new facelift. While I was working on this, I clicked on one of the articles on the NZDSOS site and noticed that at the bottom it had a voting system where you could give the article between 1 and 5 stars. Interesting, I thought, and then I gave the page a one star review – bringing it’s overall score down from 4.4 to 4.3.

I then tried to give the page a second vote, just to see what would happen – nope, there was a system in place to ensure you could only vote once. Hmmmm, I wondered, what if I opened the article in an Incognito window? Could I vote again? Yes, I could! Once I’d voted a second time, both of my votes showed up and the page was now at a rating of 4.2. If I wanted to vote again I would need to close the Incognito window and open a new one, which seemed like a tiresome task.

Now, I’m an upstanding citizen and so I let this be and didn’t take things any further. But, if I was more of a skeptical activist, and if I happened to have a background in developing software, what could I have done with this information? Well, maybe I would have started by using the Chrome Inspector to view the request made to the web server whenever a vote is cast. I’d imagine that might have looked something like this:

And maybe I’d have noticed that the only protection against someone voting multiple times was a nonce, a 10 character hexadecimal string that the site uses to fingerprint you, and check whether you’ve voted already. The kind of string that might be randomly generated with a Javascript function like:

function nonce() {
    return […Array(10)].map(() => Math.floor(Math.random() * 16).toString(16)).join(”);
}

I guess if I wanted to write a script that would downvote all of the posts on the site, I would first need a list of post IDs. And given that the NZDSOS website appears to be a Wordpress site, I’d probably look to using the Wordpress API to request as many posts as possible, and then keep asking for pages until there were no more posts left. If I’d read the documentation properly, I’d imagine the URL for the first page would probably look a little like this:

https://nzdsos.com//wp-json/wp/v2/posts/?per_page=100&page=1

Of course, if I was trying to be shrewd about it, I’d probably want to randomise things a little and not just cycle through the list of posts, hammering the website with thousands of one star votes for each one. If I gave each post a set of totally random scores between 1 and 5 it would only bring the average score down to around 3, but maybe a weighted average, heavy at the one star end, would work well. Possibly from something like this formula:

min + round((max – min) / ((<random number between 0 and 1> * (max – min)) + 1)) – 1

I could then use this to not only randomise the vote score a little, but also randomise the time between casting votes. I’d do this not only because it’s important to limit the rate at which you access an API so that you don’t overload it or get blocked, but also so that your votes look organic – like they’re coming from more than one person.

I’d also want to pick a random article each time, rather than running through the same list sequentially. And I’d probably then tell my script to print out its progress, so that I could see it working. Here’s a mock-up of what I imagine that output might look like:

Finally, once a script like this had been running for a little while, I’d expect to see the voting pattern for an article start to show a weighting towards 1 star votes, with a few votes with more than one star. And, of course, any article that’s already received a set of 5 star votes from people would also still have those votes as well.

As I said, this is all theoretical, but I reckon that given an hour or two I could probably throw all of that together into a small script, probably around 150 lines of code – a script that might end up looking a bit like this:

And, who knows, if someone ends up doing something like this and leaving the script to run over the course of several days, and if the site administrators aren’t paying attention and/or have no way of recording and blocking IP addresses, maybe we’d slowly see the score for each and every article on this misinformation site receiving the one star ratings they so obviously deserve.

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–>


The Brothers Bogdanoff and the Jadczyks

It’s funny how things come around. Last week I watched a fascinating documentary on the Bogdanoff brothers. For those not in the know, the Bogdanoffs are a fascinating case study – two brothers who became celebrities via a TV show promoting science, and then somehow bluffed their way into receiving PhDs in physics despite their theses being nonsensical in places. Many of you might recognise the brothers from their later years, where they used extreme plastic surgery to radically alter their look.
 

I highly recommend that you take some time to read up on these brothers, including about their recent deaths in the middle of our current pandemic – I bet you can guess what their stance on the COVID vaccine was!

At one point the documentary I was watching mentioned that someone who helped the brothers to create a fake university, which was part of their effort to use “sock puppet” accounts online to defend their reputations, was called Arcadiusz Jadczyk. Huh, I thought… I recognise that name. Now bear with me while we go on a short skeptical detour…

Many years ago, when I worked at a bank, I had a colleague who was into all sorts of conspiracy theories. As a fairly new skeptic, I had tried to engage him and his claims. For example, he told me he had built an over-unity device – a perpetual motion machine. I asked him to bring it in for me to see it working, and, sure enough, a few weeks later he brought in a converted magnetic hard drive with the cover taken off, and nails and coils of wire attached to it. When I asked if I could see it working, I was told that it only works when there’s a battery attached. 

Now, you might think this is a weird thing for an over-unity device to require. For one, your skeptical brain is probably screaming that the battery is going to provide power to the device, and it’s not an over-unity device if it needs a power input. And two you’re going to be thinking that this is the daftest thing ever. But, it may surprise you to know that many supposed physics-defying devices like this need a battery to work. For the builders of these devices, their usual claim is that a battery is needed to “smooth” the current coming from the energy generating part of the device, so that it can be fed back into the device to keep it working. The proof of over-unity is given via measurements made with multimeters and a little maths.

Those in the know understand that this is where the trickery happens. Most multimeters have some quirks that mean that they aren’t great at showing average voltages/currents, especially for the kinds of fluctuating electrical flows created by generators and alternators. If a meter over-estimates an average reading, the resulting power calculations will give a higher value than the amount of power actually being generated. And, as I’m sure you already suspected, the battery in these devices is the power source that actually keeps the machine running, not the power fed back into the system. And, of course, nobody with one of these devices keeps it running for days on end, as it’ll eventually run out of power and come to a stop.

Other ideas I heard from this colleague included that drinking bleach will unlock the surface of bad bacteria and kill them, using a “key” of five electrons. I also heard that earth’s twin, planet Nibiru, was going to usher in the age of Aquarius, a new age of global stability, peace, prosperity and new technology, and that 9/11 was a controlled demolition. And I was told that there’s a secret cabal of psychopaths who run every major company in the world. For these last two ideas, I was given books to read – and the book about psychopaths was written by none other than Ark Jadczyk. Finally, we’re back to the Bogdanoffs and their partner in crime.

After reading Jadczyk’s book about psychopaths, many years ago, I did some background reading on him. It turns out he’s married to a fascinating woman called Laura Knight-Jadczyk. The more I read about her, the weirder things became. She has been involved in spreading so, so many weird and wonderful conspiracy ideas, around Nibiru, free energy, 9/11, the New World Order, weather modification and much, much more. It was obvious from this that my work colleague was consuming all of this drivel and swallowing it hook, line and sinker.

So how did Laura receive all of her information about these conspiracies? Did she have an insider leaking information to her? Nope – she used to run regular seances at her house, where she used a Ouija board to communicate telepathically with an alien race called the Cassiopaeians. These aliens would relay the information to her through the Ouija board. I read a great description of how this used to happen: Laura sitting at a table in front of the Ouija board, with a glass of whisky and a cigarette in one hand, and the planchette in the other. The planchette would move around the board so rapidly that she would have several of her male followers standing over her with notepads and pens, furiously trying to note down the sequence of letters as they were pointed out. And then this information was posted to an internet forum, which is where my colleague was reading it uncritically.

It was frustrating at the time that no amount of evidence I could give to the contrary would convince my colleague that the things he was reading from a woman in the US channelling aliens were nonsense. I’ve occasionally wondered how his life has been since I worked with him – believing in so many paranoid ideas must be tiring. I’ve just searched for his name, and although I can’t find him on LinkedIn, when searching his name in Google the only result that looks likely to be him is an obituary from two years ago. So maybe he’s no longer with us, which is sad.

Speaking of Ouija boards, a good friend made one for me recently! It’s taken pride of place in my collection of skeptical oddities, which include reflexology socks, an electroacupuncture device, divining rods, placebo pills, and a can of Yeti Meat. Maybe I’ll see if I can contact the Cassiopaeians and finally find out the truth about Area 51.
 


If you have any news or thoughts you would like to see published in this newsletter, we would love to hear from you at:
[email protected]

if you want to support us by becoming a financial member, or would like to check your membership status, please go to:
https://skeptics.nz/join


Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Website

Email

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UFOs – the camera doesn’t lie…

…It Just Tells Dirty Great Big Fat Whoppers!

by Anthony Wharton – St-Helens, UK

MEIER UNDER THE MICROSCOPE /EXTRAORDINARY CLAIMS OF EXTRATERRESTRIAL CONTACT.

I continue to be fascinated with the Swiss farmer who has, in my opinion, been engaged in the longest running UFO hoax on record. My fascination comes from the obviously terrible quality of his hoax and the lameness of his excuses for failure, combined with the fact that there are so many people who still believe him.

Not having looked at the Meier case in over 10 years, seeing as it is Meier’s 85th birthday in February, I decided to mark this milestone by taking a fresh look at the case to see if anything has changed.

You can watch a short video clip showing Billy Meier’s 8mm movie clips on YouTube

Throughout my life I have had several genuine UFO sightings which remain unexplained to this day and this is the reason I became interested in the UFO subject. After researching the phenomenon for many years, I came to the conclusion that most UFO cases, especially photographic cases, are nothing more than made up stories and hoaxes. One of the most controversial UFO cases on record is the Billy Meier case.

WHO IS BILLY MEIER?

Eduard Albert “Billy” Meier is an 84 year old, one and a half armed, Swiss farmer. He was born in 1937 and he claims to have been in contact with extraterrestrials named the “Plejaren” or, formerly known as, the “Pleiadians”.

His claims of extraterrestrial contact were first published in the late 1970s/early 1980s. What made Meier different from previous UFO contactees is that his photographs were of, what appeared to be, structured craft. However, many people soon grew very suspicious of Meier’s claims due to the vast number (100s) of crystal clear, daylight photographs of the UFOs.

After reading so much nonsense written by Michael Horn (Billy Meier’s authorised American media representative and official spokesman) about how it is impossible to replicate the effect of Meier’s photographs without millions of dollars or access to Hollywood special effects equipment, I decided to see just how difficult it would be to create some fake UFO photographs using nothing more than miniature models and fishing wire. (Back in 2004) I made some tiny UFO shaped models and suspended them on fishing line on the end of a long rod and then photographed them using a 35mm camera. The results are conclusive proof that Billy Meier’s UFO photographic evidence can be very easily replicated and shows that anybody can set themselves up as a UFO contactee.

But to Meier and Horn it all makes perfect sense when expressed in dollars and cents, pounds, shillings and pence. (The full annual membership fee to the FIGU cult used to be $631 Dollars, plus take into account all the revenues from years of book, DVD/video sales, interviews, presentations, documentaries etc). You can see my examples of fake UFO photographs I created on Flickr.

THE WEDDING CAKE UFO CONTROVERSY… 

Watch the Wedding Cake UFO video clip on YouTube. 

The wedding cake UFO photograph is an image showing what Meier and Horn claim is a very large extraterrestrial spacecraft hovering over Meier’s small van. I commented on this photograph (back in 2004) and suggested that what it really shows is a small model close to the camera. After many heated debates with Meier and Horn they once again challenged me to back up my claims and I gladly decided to accept this second challenge. So once again using nothing more than a flying saucer shaped model and a 35mm film camera, I managed to very easily replicate the effect of the wedding cake UFO photograph. My photographs show what appears to be a very large flying saucer hovering over some very large vehicles and are almost identical to Meier’s photograph. 

What we are seeing in Meier’s photographs is not extraterrestrial but nothing more than an optical illusion, which is created by photographing a small model very close to the camera, a technique called false or forced perspective. Meier was unable to produce photographs of real UFOs, so he faked his photographic evidence using miniature UFO models to back up his fictitious story. So there we have it, proof that replicating the effect of even Meier’s hardest piece of photographic evidence, really is a piece of cake! 

Note the use of carpet tacks on the wedding cake UFO model.

In fact, the carpet tacks offer another devastating indication of fakery by Meier, if one will only notice it. When looking at how they are placed between the spheres at the middle, one can see one of them is missing. It can actually be found laying on the surface of the model, apparently after it simply fell off, unnoticed by Meier, as well as by many of the believers in this case!

This is clearly highlighted in the photograph of the wedding cake UFO, pictured outside Meier’s property.

ENTER MR VICTOR GIBBS (NOW DECEASED). 

Back in 2009 I was contacted by an elderly man named Victor Gibbs via E-Mail. Victor had done some optical research and believed that he had discovered evidence that the Billy Meier UFO film clips and photographs are hoaxed. Victor had been retired for some years, but earlier in his life he worked in the gardening industry for 30 years. This included working in all aspects of the profession including  maintenance, forestry, plantation, landscaping, farming and tree surgery. Victor looked at the Billy Meier photographs and film clips on the internet and after his research and experience as a gardener, was in no doubt that Billy Meier used miniature trees in some of his film clips and photographs.

See the photograph of Victor standing next to a miniature tree which he believed was roughly the same size as the tree that Meier used several times in the video footage and a number of other photographs. He was actually confident that Meier’s tree was much smaller than this tree and certainly no bigger than it.

Meier claimed that the wedding cake beam ship video and other photographic stills contained fully sized trees. Victor believed this to be completely untrue and was sure that Meier zoomed in on the tree in the wedding cake beam ship video from a distance to make it look like it was fully sized, but in actual fact in doing so he has revealed that the tree is quite small. Note how the miniature tree which Victor is standing next to looks to be the same size as Meier’s alleged tree. As Victor pointed out to me, if you look at the size of the drum lid that the gentleman is holding then the actual size of the tree could even be much, much smaller in reality, possibly even as small as 30 inches in height, Victor said that this is what is commonly known as a tabletop Christmas tree. Also, when the photograph of the drum lid is compared to the photograph of the wedding cake UFO, it is strikingly obvious that this is the object that Billy Meier used to stage the whole event (the photograph of the gentleman holding the drum lid was taken at Billy Meier’s organization/cult, known as FIGU, the photo clearly shows several of the Harcostar Universal Containers in a storage room. The person holding the lid of the container has been identified as Phil McCainey).

With regards to the extraterrestrial craft shown in Billy Meier’s videos and photographs, Victor believed that they are fundamentally flawed. Victor spent many years in the Royal Air Force, both flying and observing aircraft. He was also an avid and keen photographer. He felt that Meier’s craft are too crisp, clear and in focus to be distant aerial objects and that they are actually miniatures suspended close to the camera lens. Victor also pointed out that there is no visible atmospheric haze or pressure around the objects or ground reflected light. Victor also stated that the alleged UFOs are very dark on their underside which Victor believed to be a tell tale sign that they are very small and close to the camera lens. In the close up photographs, there are no shadows of the objects visible on the ground. As Victor pointed out to me, in the photograph of the wedding cake UFO hovering over Meier’s small van, notice how Meier’s tiny van clearly casts a shadow to the left yet the alleged huge UFO leaves not even one inch of shadow on the ground! They are, in Victor’s opinion, easily replicated hoaxes. 

To sum up, after examining Billy Meier’s video and photographic evidence and his own research, Victor believed that either the UFOs being  captured on film by Billy Meier were tiny in size and piloted by beings only a few inches high, or Billy Meier’s photographic evidence was simply created using tiny models and miniature trees. Looking at both of these explanations it is clearly obvious which is the more probable.

THE WANDERING TREE…

Another question I put to Billy Meier and Michael Horn was…. 

Why does what clearly looks like the same miniature tree seem to appear in many of Meier’s photographs and film clips, yet the photography was taken years apart and at different locations? Their reply was that the reason the tree looks similar in certain photographs and film clips is just simply a coincidence, they also maintained that all the trees in Meier’s photographic evidence were real huge trees, some as tall as 40 to 50 feet in height or even bigger. My reply to them both was that what they are saying is complete nonsense and just simply impossible within the realms of nature. See the image showing a photograph and 2 stills from Meier’s film clips, notice how we see the same almost identical miniature tree in all 3 images, yet these images were taken years apart and at different locations. I pointed out to both Meier and Horn that the odds of nature producing the same identical tree at different locations spanning several years would probably be 1 in several trillion or more, or actually just simply impossible!

The same tree appears to have been used in these different photographs and films because the trees all share the same physical characteristics and the tree is the same size and shape even after 6 years. Also, the photographs and the films were each taken in different cities, there is no evidence that a real live tree ever existed in any of these locations, and the official explanation from Meier and his followers is that the extraterrestrials erased people’s memories about the tree, but they left the photographs and films alone!

Another controversial piece of tree evidence is the Hasenbol UFO photograph. This UFO was photographed by Meier in 1976. Michael Horn, Billy Meier and his associates claim that the UFO is behind the tree branches. I recently took a fresh look at the Hasenbol UFO evidence and simply turned the photograph into a negative image. The photo enlargements and the computer analysis images all clearly reveal that  the small model UFO is clearly infront of the tree. This new analysis finally puts this argument to bed once and for all! 

Meier and Horn also claim that the UFO hovering over Meier’s van is a huge extraterrestrial spacecraft and is partially obscured by the tree foliage. Again, I decided to take a fresh look at this photograph. Using computer analysis, I simply enhanced the brightness and also turned the photograph into a negative image. The results conclusively prove that this is completely untrue and completely false. As we can can clearly see from the digitally enhanced analysis images, the UFO is clearly in front of the tree and no tree foliage or branches are visible or obscuring any part of the UFO whatsoever, proving that what we are seeing is a small model UFO very close to the camera, another myth finally dispelled!

What Meier and Horn are referring to is simply distorted pixelation, due to the extremely low quality of the image. Many years ago I asked Meier if he would send me some high resolution images along with a fragment of extraterrestrial material for independent scientific analysis, needless to say my request was refused! (It is now 18 years since I requested a sample of extraterrestrial material).

Meier also put forward a lot more very controversial and highly suspicious evidence, including photographs of what he claimed were 2 female extraterrestrials, named Asket and Nera. The photographs are crude fakes showing dancing girls from the Dean Martin show, Meier created these images by simply photographing his television screen!

Meier also put forward a photograph of a flying dinosaur, he claimed he took this image when he travelled back in time 65 million years with his extraterrestrial associates in a pleiadian time machine, Meier simply photographed the image from a book!

One of the most ridiculous pieces of evidence that Meier ever put forward is a photograph of what he claimed showed an extraterrestrial named Alena holding a laser gun. And again, looking at this photograph more recently with fresh eyes and examining it much closer, I am in no doubt whatsoever that the alleged extraterrestrial in the photograph is either Meier himself, wearing a woman’s wig, or Meier’s EX wife, Popi Meier, simply dressed in a 1970s golden disco glitter suit. It is obvious that Meier made the infamous laser gun from junk, including items such as a garden hose pipe attachment, tin foil and bits of plastic and other tat (somebody give that man a Blue Peter Badge). And looking at the photograph of the 1960s vintage toy space gun which I recently found on an internet website, it is pretty obvious where Meier got the red plastic barrel from, either Meier was getting sloppy or he has a wicked sense of humour. Looking at the photograph of the alien Alena and Popi Meier, notice how they both have very similar dark frizzy hair. Also, something else that I noticed is, in all the available photographs of Alena the left arm is always obscured from view, is that because it is Meier that we see in the photographs or is it just simply another coincidence that Meier’s left arm has been amputated?

Meier also put forward a photograph of what he claimed showed the landing marks from one of the flying saucers. Meier claimed that these crop circles were over 2 metres across in size (over 6 feet). Back in 2005 I contacted a crop circle researcher and I Sent him the photograph and asked him for his professional opinion. He said that after studying and comparing Meier’s photograph to images of real crop circles, he was in no doubt whatsoever that Meier’s photograph shows tiny man made circles, roughly the size of a dinner plate and certainly no bigger than 15 inches across. I also decided to take a fresh and closer look at this image, if you simply compare the size of the circles to the size of the visible blades of grass and leaves, one can clearly see that there is no possible way that the circles can be over 6 feet across in size!

The vanishing UFO film clips are just simply edits known as jump cuts and if you watch them very closely you can very easily spot the cuts, as pointed out by several special effects experts who have also viewed all of Meier’s film clips.

Back in the 1970s, Meier claimed to be in possession of a number of metal alloy and crystal samples. Meier claimed that these samples of material were extraterrestrial in origin and came from several different planets situated in outer space. Meier put forward the metal alloy sample for analysis. It turns out that an actual metallurgist did analyze the metal sample and this is what was revealed:

Page 214 of the 2001 book And Yet…They Fly! states the following:

A metallurgist from the University of Arizona examined one of the metal fragments and analyzed it as a simple ‘cooking pot metal’ or cheap cast metal alloy used to produce such things as tin soldiers.

It seems that the main focus of the Billy Meier case for the last 2 years has been the corona virus pandemic. Meier claims that he was the 1st person on the planet to predict this whole event with information provided to him from his extraterrestrial associates.

You can read Meier’s corona virus prophecies here.

Meier has been accused many times by many people of taking the information attached to his prophecies from credible sources after certain actual events have already happened and after the information has already been documented and published. Credible sources such as scientific/medical/astronomy journals and nature publications, Meier has been accused of then republishing the information with an earlier and false date, designed to make it look like he predicted certain important and historic events.

If anybody is clutching at straws and wondering if there might just be a chance if Meier’s photographic evidence is genuine and whether his story might be true, the following paragraph and accompanying photographs will help you answer that question.

The 2 computer analysis images show a Type-4 spacecraft over Mount Auruti, Switzerland, photographed by Billy Meier on 29 March 1976. The two computer-enhanced images made from this photograph reveal a great deal about this picture. The images show, in the words of Ground Saucer Watch who did the computer analysis (back in the 1970s), “evidence of a linear structure above the craft”- in plain english, a string or rod supporting the object. The structure is equally clear in the computerised enlargement in the second image. In addition, study of the focus in this picture indicates that the object is close to the camera and is therefore small – about 8 inches (20 centimetres) across, not 23 feet (7 metres) as Meier claimed.

And the final nail in the coffin…

Watch Popi Meier, Meier’s EX wife, admitting on camera that the whole thing is a HOAX!

The fact that most 5 year old kids tell more convincing “fibs” than Meier does not seem to bother the faithful, his believers and his disciples. And that is my real fascination – the human capacity for gullibility, or motivated belief. If it has any limits, they have yet to be documented.

The Meier case is, if nothing else, a natural experiment in human gullibility with the conclusion that there appears to be no limit to this phenomenon.

Just as I expected, it would appear that very little has changed with regards to the Billy Meier UFO case. In Ufology, Billy Meier is considered by most researchers as nothing more than a laughing stock, but it appears that Meier might just have had the last laugh. According to several websites, Meier’s net worth is currently around $1.5 Million Dollars, plus if you take into consideration all the money he must have spent over the last 50 years, that’s not bad for a few wobbly models if the information on those websites is correct?

UPDATE
I received an email from Michael Horn on Sunday 30th January 2022. Michael said “I must credibly rebut all of the information published over the last 10 years”, he also made reference to USAF personnel and astronauts who had allegedly authenticated Meier’s case and photographic evidence. 

This is simply Meier and Horn buying more time and deflecting attention away from themselves for failing to confront and answer my truths. It is now time for both Meier and Horn to explain and answer all the above questions, instead of just simply hoping that people will forget about Meier’s abysmal and sloppy photographic mistakes!

Authentication of the Meier case can only be evaluated and based on the photographic evidence that Meier put forward in the 1970s. As this has all been thoroughly debunked and proved to be fake, and has been easily replicated by myself and others, NO other information attached to the case can be considered as evidence, or is worth scrutinizing. To quote Ground Saucer Watch who analysed Meier’s photographic evidence in the 1970s…

“It is our opinion that all of the analyzed photographs are hoaxes, both crude and grandiose, and that they should not be considered evidence of an extraordinary flying craft. All of the evaluated frames can be duplicated with a basic camera and darkroom equipment…the incidents are an updated, 1980 version of the George Adamski claims of detailed photographs and contacteeism with space people.”

In my opinion, all of Meier’s 60,000 contact notes including all of his prophecies, past, present and future, have nothing to do with UFOs and extraterrestrials whatsoever and should be considered as nothing more than toilet paper, or at the very best fish and chip wrappings. In my opinion, Meier falls under the same category as fake psychics and fake mediums, $1 dollar fortune tellers, victorian seances, scam faith healers and all other practicing charlatans!

As for anybody claiming to have authenticated Meier’s case and photographic evidence as genuine, including USAF personnel, astronauts etc, this is a complete fabrication and simply untrue and amounts to nothing more than conjecture and fantasy!

It is now 18 years since I requested a fragment of extraterrestrial material from Meier and Horn for independent scientific analysis. To mark this milestone I have decided to release a new photograph of a fake UFO, this black and white photograph was created by myself using nothing more than a small model suspended on strings. This photograph alone proves that the Meier case is a hoax!

I am also ordering Meier and Horn to pay me the grand sum of $1,000,000 Million dollars in damages for failing to meet my challenge and due to the FACT that I have successfully proved beyond any reasonable doubt, that the Meier case is simply nothing more than a work of science fiction, created by Meier’s overactive imagination. This money MUST be paid, this is what integrity demands, there can be absolutely NO argument, dispute or doubt now, especially considering their abysmal failings.

After reading this article, anybody who might be considering looking into the Billy Meier UFO case, BE WARNED! You will have more success finding some live forever tablets, knitting fog or finding some rocking horse poo then you will in finding a single grain of truth in the Meier case!

Keep your eyes open for the long-awaited new colour photo book/DVD, co-produced by Billy Meier and Michael Horn-I Was Abducted By Pixies, released in July 2022 and yours for only $100 dollars including shipping, available in all good book shops soon (probably)!

As with many UFO cases there is evidence both for and against, it is up to you to look at both sides of the coin and make your own mind up as to what you really believe. One should always keep an open mind, but not to the point where your brain falls out!

IN MEMORY OF MR VICTOR GIBBS (1925-2017) R.I.P

By Anthony Wharton, St-Helens, UK 

Cult Dining: The Lotus Heart and the legacy of Sri Chinmoy

Bronwyn Rideout investigates the connection between the Lotus Heart restaurant in Christchurch and Sri Chinmoy.

The Lotus Heart Restaurant has been on my radar for almost as long as I have been living in New Zealand. I was introduced to it by a vegan friend in 2007, when it was still located in Cathedral Square. The restaurant was clean, airy, bright and well-appointed, but the prominent place given to the hard-to-miss wall-sized portrait of a beatific Indian gentleman made it obvious that place was a bit… different.

While waiting to pay the bill on my first visit, I rounded the shelves to see books and music that had been written and published solely by Sri Chinmoy. There was also an album that contained photos of the aforementioned gentleman either sitting alongside famous politicians and celebrities, or lifting them using an overly complicated and excessively modified lifting device.

Sri Chinmoy lifts a twin engine Baron airplane with Hugo Girard, 2002’s “World’s Strongest Man” titleholder, 5-time Mr. Universe Bill Pearl and their wives sitting inside. Chinmoy uses a modified  standing calf raise machine.

While I haven’t found an online copy of the picture of Sri Chinmoy lifting the diminutive Hayley Westenra that I saw in person, maybe readers will appreciate the time he made a nuisance of himself in the central North Island attempting to lift 1,000 lambs.

My interest piqued, I decided to turn to the internet – not for the free meditation classes on offer, but to find out more. Despite being 2007, there was much more information out about Sri Chinmoy than there is available now. Many ex disciples had turned to blogging platforms such as Livejournal and Yahoo! Groups to share their experiences, and these have long since become defunct. Skeptical websites that had investigated Chinmoy and his operations are now dead links, taking with them any evidence that supported the scattered counterclaims that remain.

In the years following Sri Chinmoy’s death in October 2007, it appears his disciples have become internet savvy and have effectively google-bombed any negative – press unless one deliberately includes cult, scam, or fraud in their search parameters. The best repository of Sri Chinmoy information that is not curated by his organisation is the Cult Education Institute, run by Rick A. Ross. Your mileage may vary with regards to the ethics of Ross’ deprogramming work, and the absence of digital versions of the reports he includes.

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My most recent visit, during my Christmas holidays in December last year, has made me decide that the amazing food is not worth its less than dismal stance on masks, vaccines, and public health. The restaurant was crowded, and diners were nearly cheek to jowl. My husband and I didn’t have a booking, but they were able to seat us near the front entrance, ironically the only place with ventilation and where social distancing was possible. While we waited for our meals, my husband took great delight in noting the poor placement of the single, minuscule QR code, and I questioned the validity of the vaccine exemption cards that were pinned to the colourful saris and white tunics of the employees.

We weren’t the only ones that noticed.

RNZ reported on December 29th that the Lotus-Heart was fined $20,000 for multiple COVID-19 rule breaches. This was followed with a further $24,000 fine on January 27th. Owner Bhuvah Thurston is reported to have not engaged with Worksafe in any capacity. After shutting down from December 31st to January 19th, the restaurant has continued its defiance by advertising itself as a “Private Contract Association”, which enables the diners to forgo wearing a mask, scanning, or being vaccinated to enter the premises.

Employing similar tactics to the Love Boat Club (formerly MAD café) in Golden Bay, Thurston hopes that by presenting Lotus-Heart as a private club under “common law” they can bypass government regulations. There is some irony in the about-turn to sovereign citizenship, a sham form of secession, given that the Lotus-Heart has claimed $154,000 from the government’s COVID-19 wage subsidy programme.

However, an unexpected development came from the Sri Chinmoy Centre of New Zealand. Director Jogyata Dallas announced on January 28th that the restaurant had its membership revoked due to its “disregard for current mandates”. Both national and international Sri Chinmoy Centre directors claim that their late guru was a champion of peace, and would have advised his students to follow government and health regulations. As of February 4th, the Lotus-Heart Restaurant continues to respond reactively. It has gone relatively silent on social media (their Instagram account is now private, and their Facebook page has disappeared), and the membership enrolment page from the main website has disappeared into the ether.

The name Sri Chinmoy may not mean much to most New Zealanders. Despite having centres located in Auckland, Hamilton, Taupo, and Wellington that host a myriad of free meditation sessions, concerts, and foot races, there are only an estimated 100 students in New Zealand.

But who was Sri Chinmoy? A guru whose followers are comfortable with attributing a decidedly un-counterculture, pro-government/pro-modern medicine philosophy to him?

It is difficult to parse fact from fiction, due to the aforementioned google-bombing; his Wikipedia entry is hardly unbiased, as it heavily relies on the writings of Sri Chinmoy and his followers. His obituaries were no more enlightening, focusing on his quirkiness and public preoccupation with running and weight-lifting – which earned him the moniker of “The Gonzo Guru” by the Chicago Tribune in the early 90s.

Chinmoy Kumar Ghose was born in what is now Bangladesh in 1931, the youngest of 7 children born to Shahsi (a railway inspector and banker) and Yogamaya. After the death of both parents in a short span of time in 1943, Chinmoy decamped to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry to join two of his elder brothers. Life within the ashram included a disavowal of alcohol, drugs, sex and politics, but where Chinmoy gained a love of athletics, especially running.

Most narratives of Chinmoy’s early life skip to his job with the Indian Consulate in New York. Ex-disciple Anne Carlton reports, as part of her testimony, that there were tensions at the ashram that hastened his departure. Carlton reports that despite encouragement to pursue his Olympic dream, life at the ashram was difficult, with insufficient food and little educational opportunities. When he was chastised for secretly visiting another ashram, Chinmoy found sponsors connected to the ashram to bring him to the US and secure him a position as a visa clerk at the Indian consulate in 1964, at age 32.

The pay was poor and he was frequently pestered by the “Mother” of the ashram to send back exotic goods to India. With interest in eastern religions rising, Chinmoy saw an opportunity to tap into the same pool of wealthy, Western devotees who supported the Sri Aurobindo ashram. He gave talks on Hinduism, earned his green card, and in 1966, left the consulate to pursue his spiritual vision.

In part 2, we’ll look deeper into the lengths Chinmoy went to transform himself into a myth, the scandals that lay underneath, and how the groups has fared in the nearly 15 years since their guru’s death.